June 21st, 2024

Intel unit focused on analysis, not criminal investigations, RCMP employee tells jury

By Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press on October 27, 2023.

Cameron Jay Ortis returns to the Ottawa Courthouse during a break in proceedings in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. An RCMP employee who worked in the same intelligence unit as the man charged with revealing classified information says the unit was not involved in criminal investigations, surveillance or undercover work. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

OTTAWA – An RCMP employee who worked in the same intelligence unit as a man charged with revealing classified information to targets of the force says the unit was not involved in criminal probes, surveillance or undercover work.

Gregory O’Hayon told Ontario Superior Court that Operations Research, as the RCMP unit was known, focused on intelligence and analysis.

The Crown alleges Cameron Jay Ortis, who once led the unit, anonymously sent secret information in 2015 to people who were of investigative interest to the national police force.

Ortis, 51, has pleaded not guilty to violating the Security of Information Act by allegedly revealing secrets to three individuals and trying to do so in a fourth instance.

Ortis’s lawyers have indicated they will try to persuade the jury their client had the authority to take the actions he did.

Reporters and the general public were excluded from the courtroom for O’Hayon’s appearance on Wednesday despite objections from media. An edited transcript of his testimony was released on Friday.

O’Hayon said he accepted Ortis’s offer in 2010 to come work for him in the planned new Operations Research unit. O’Hayon, now an acting director general with the RCMP, worked in the unit for most of the next decade.

The unit, which had access to highly sensitive material, was responsible for compiling and developing classified information on terror cells, transnational criminal networks, cybercriminals and commercial espionage.

Ortis left the unit in early 2015 to take French-language training before moving on to another intelligence role with the RCMP in 2016.

O’Hayon said Ortis never spoke of planning to contact targets of a criminal investigation.

Operations Research was an intelligence and analytical unit, while surveillance and undercover operations are investigative steps that trained police officers undertake, O’Hayon said.

“Our role was making sense of the information that we received, providing it to decision-makers and … helping to position the RCMP to do something investigation-like, but … we weren’t an investigative arm.”

Under questioning from the Crown, O’Hayon played down any suggestion that the unit had a free hand to do whatever it wanted.

He said Operations Research had discretion to develop intelligence projects from the classified reporting it saw.

“We were self-tasked, and I think that’s where I view the notion that we had carte blanche came from,” O’Hayon said.

But the unit still had to “act within our authorities” and “within the legal framework,” he added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2023.

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