US & Canada

Cameron Ortis: Trudeau reassures allies amid alleged spying case

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Image copyright Reuters
Image caption PM Justin Trudeau says Canada is taking the allegations against Cameron Ortis "very seriously"

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has moved to reassure allies in the wake of an alleged spying case with possible international implications.

A senior intelligence official was charged last week with violating national security laws.

Cameron Ortis had access to information coming from Canada's global allies, the RCMP national police force said.

Canada is in close contact with its intelligence partners over the case, Mr Trudeau says.

"We are in direct communications with our allies on security," the prime minister said while campaigning in Newfoundland on Tuesday.

"We are also working with them to reassure them, but we want to ensure that everyone understands that we are taking this situation very seriously."

Canada is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that also includes the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand.

"We recognise that these allegations, if proven true, are extremely unsettling," said RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki on Tuesday.

What are the charges against Mr Ortis?

Mr Ortis, who was a civilian director general with the police force's intelligence unit, is accused of breaching the Security of Information Act and the Criminal Code.

The charges filed against him include the "unauthorised communication of special operational information", possessing a device or software "useful for concealing the content of information or for surreptitiously communicating, obtaining or retaining information", and breach of trust by a public officer.

Few other details have been released about the alleged offences, though they took place during his tenure as an RCMP employee.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Cameron Ortis, shown in a court sketch from his court hearing in Canada on 13 September

What do we know about the investigation?

The investigation dates back to 2018, when the RCMP was assisting the FBI on a separate investigation, during which investigators came across documents that suggested there might be some internal corruption - "a mole".

That sparked a separate investigation to discover the source of the leak. The inquiry led back to the RCMP and then to the eventual arrest of Mr Ortis last week, Ms Lucki said during a news conference on Tuesday.

As soon as it learned there was cause for concern, the force took immediate steps to safeguard intelligence, she said.

Under his security clearance, Mr Ortis had access to information the Canadian intelligence community possessed and intelligence coming from international allies.

The RCMP said it was aware of potential risks to operations of its partner agencies in Canada and abroad and was assessing what impact, if any, the case may have had on security operations.

"The investigation is continuing and we are evaluating the potential repercussions of [Mr Ortis]' activities," said Ms Lucki.

How damaging is the case?

Ms Lucki says for the moment allies continue to share intelligence with relevant Canadian authorities despite the fact that the leaks could have hurt their nations' intelligence operations.

But she conceded there is "always the possibility" that partner agencies might lose trust in the RCMP.

"I would definitely imagine that there is concern amongst our Five Eyes community as well as within Canada," she said.

Ms Lucki said the national police force put measures in place to mitigate the current risks - and to prevent something similar from happening again.

CBC News reports that Mr Ortis had highly classified material that, if it were released, would cause a serious damage to Canada and its allies.

Mr Ortis was looking into allegations that Russian tax fraudsters had laundered millions of dollars through Canada, a US financier told Reuters.

Bill Browder, a high-profile critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he had met Mr Ortis twice in Canada in 2017 after alerting the RCMP to the matter.

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