OTTAWA — A former employee of an RCMP intelligence unit privy to highly secret information says members would never directly contact targets of a criminal investigation.
Dan Morris told the Ontario Superior Court trial of Cameron Jay Ortis, who led the unit, that senior RCMP decision-makers would need to approve such an action.
The Crown alleges Ortis anonymously sent classified information in 2015 to people who were of investigative interest to the RCMP.
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 said they will argue their client had the authority to take the actions he did.
Reporters and the general public were excluded from the courtroom for Morris's appearance Monday despite objections from media. A transcript of his testimony was released Tuesday.
Ortis was officer-in-charge of the RCMP's Operations Research unit in 2010 when he hired Morris to work there. Ortis became director of the unit in 2013, leaving in early 2015 to take French-language training before moving on to another intelligence post.
Morris assumed Ortis's duties at Operations Research, eventually becoming permanent director. He left the unit in September 2018 but remains a civilian RCMP member, he told the court.
The unit had the task of assembling and developing classified information on terror cells, transnational criminal networks, cybercrime actors and commercial espionage.
The unit director was expected to manage a high-risk program that provided actionable packages of information to senior RCMP executives, says a job description for Ortis, filed in court as part of a statement of agreed facts in the case.
Under questioning from the Crown, Morris said Operations Research was set up to be completely separate from criminal investigations.
The unit was focused exclusively on developing intelligence research projects to brief senior decision-makers on threats and opportunities, he said.
The sensitive material the unit worked with could not be used in criminal investigations due to the risk of potentially exposing that intelligence in court, Morris said.
While the unit did not directly contact investigative targets, doing so would involve briefing a series of decision-makers who "would need to approve of that potential action," he said.
If there were any sort of deception involved, it would be defined in RCMP policy as an undercover operation, Morris added. "There’s very clear rules on how undercover operations can be performed within the RCMP and who can perform those operations."
If the Operations Research unit saw an opportunity for an undercover operation that involved contact with a target, it would brief the assistant commissioner overseeing the unit and possibly the director general for national security criminal operations, he said.
The director for covert operations and the relevant criminal operations officer would also be informed of the possible operation, Morris indicated.
"So, there'd be a series of briefings and approvals that would be required in order to green light, if I may say, this kind of action."
Morris told of one such effort in 2012, when a plan was developed and a trained undercover operator was assigned.
Operations Research "had nothing to do with the actual execution of that plan," he said. "Our goal was in identifying the opportunity, and that’s it."
Morris said the unit was also involved in identifying opportunities for disruption efforts overseas — operations aimed at interfering with the networks and routines of suspected criminals to put them at a disadvantage.
Operations Research sometimes shared information with an RCMP liaison officer posted abroad, who would then pass it to a local police partner for action against a foreign target, he said.
However, members of the Operations Research unit did not contact the chosen targets directly, he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 24, 2023.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press