Senior RCMP officials ignored repeated warnings about Cameron Ortis before his arrest for alleged information security breaches, a group of employees have claimed in a court document obtained by Global News.
Staff who worked under Ortis at the RCMP’s National Intelligence Coordination Centre (NICC) said they had been raising concerns about his “strange and controlling behaviour” since January 2017, but proper action was not taken.
Ortis, who was director-general of the NICC, was charged Sept. 19 with being a mole in the senior ranks of the RCMP. He has been accused of providing sensitive police information to an unnamed foreign entity.
But in explosive allegations contained in a lawsuit against the federal government, three RCMP intelligence analysts claimed that, even as Ortis was stealing and selling their work, he was also sabotaging the unit he oversaw.
Francisco Chaves, Michael Vladars and Dayna Young claimed in the suit filed last week that Ortis had bullied and undermined them in an effort to drive them out and replace them with “individuals over whom he had a greater level of personal control.”
Investigators have told the employees the alleged abusive behaviour was part of Ortis’s scheme, according to the lawsuit, which seeks damages from the RCMP for failing to act on their complaints about his conduct, which they claimed damaged their careers.
“The plaintiffs have been advised by investigators connected with the RCMP’s internal investigation that the RCMP now believes that Mr. Ortis systematically targeted them and attacked their careers as part of his larger plan to misappropriate their work and use it for personal gain,” it said.
“The plaintiffs have also been advised by investigators that the work product transmitted by Mr. Ortis to third parties contains information which identifies the plaintiffs personally.”
The allegations, in a statement of claim filed Thursday in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, have not been tested in court. Neither the RCMP nor the lawyer representing the three employees could be reached for comment.
Ortis is awaiting trial.
The RCMP has previously declined to comment to Global News about allegations Ortis was the subject of numerous complaints before his arrest, but the lawsuit provides the first detailed account of the concerns raised internally by staff and how they were handled.
It alleged the RCMP only ordered a review of the complaints after Ortis was arrested, and the report found “a failure in leadership occurred at all levels of senior management.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that Public Safety Minister Bill Blair was “following up” on the case.
“Obviously we take these reports extremely seriously and I can assure you that Minister Blair is following up on them and looking into what may have happened around this case,” Trudeau said.
Blair’s office would not answer questions. “I’m afraid we don’t comment on cases before the courts,” his spokesperson said.
Professor Stephanie Carvin said the allegations suggested Ortis had “a pretty methodical plan” to get better access to intelligence information.
“I think there’s a larger issue that comes out of this case, which is: had these allegations of harassment been addressed sooner by RCMP management, would it have been possible for them to catch Cameron Ortis sooner and prevent all the damage that he may have indeed caused?” said Carvin, a national security expert at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.
“And I really think this is going to have to be something that will be investigated.”
According to the case filed by the RCMP employees, who are each seeking $1.9 million, the problems began soon after Ortis, a civilian who became a rising star within the national police force, took over as director-general of the intelligence centre in 2016.
“Very early on in his tenure, Mr. Ortis began to engage in a pattern of degrading and abusive behaviour towards NICC employees,” the suit alleges, adding he also began to push staff out of their positions.
Ortis belittled and degraded his staff, undermined their work, damaged their reputations throughout the RCMP and blocked their advancement so he could bring in his “preferred” outside hires, according to the lawsuit.
Under Ortis, the analysts said they began to feel they could no longer do their jobs properly and became concerned with the quality of the intelligence they were providing to frontline officers and partner agencies.
By early 2017, nearly half NICC analysts had left the unit, it said.
“These individuals had been replaced by new employees who were friendly with or personally indebted or grateful to Mr. Ortis,” according to the suit.
“Some of the original NICC employees began to exchange theories about Mr. Ortis’s strange and controlling behaviour, including predictions that Mr. Ortis was attempting to construct a unit that would unquestioningly follow his directions, which he could then use for personal gain or advancement.”
On Jan. 13, 2017, a group of employees wrote a letter to Ortis and copied it to the assistant commissioner, among others. The employees then met in February with the deputy commissioner of federal policing.
“Despite making a clear plea for assistance, no appropriate action was taken,” according to the suit.
The employees sent another letter to Ortis about the “ongoing toxic workplace environment” in May 2017 but an internal conflict management process was stopped because Ortis was “not genuinely prepared to engage.”
Ortis sent an email to NICC staff on June 12, 2017, proposing in-person meetings to discuss their concerns, but the employees said that did not go well and Ortis was defensive, combative and threatening.
“Overall, the NICC group’s attempt to raise concerns met with inaction and, in some cases, ridicule from members of RCMP senior management,” the employees alleged.
“This failure to act on management’s part continued into 2018 and 2019, as NICC employees continued to attempt to raise concerns and as Mr. Ortis’s behaviour worsened.”
Young, 39, an RCMP intelligence analyst since 2008, said she ultimately left the unit and took a medical leave as a result of Ortis’s conduct. She said she wrote an email to Commissioner Brenda Lucki in August 2018 but got no response.
An NCIC intelligence analyst since 2013, Vladars, 38, also transferred out and sought medical treatment and counselling. “Devastated and demoralized,” Chaves, 42, also gave up his position as an intelligence supervisor and left.
They remain RCMP employees.
After Ortis was arrested, the employees said they were distressed to hear RCMP management claim, “inaccurately, that no concerns had ever been raised about Mr. Ortis.”
The public statements at the time “failed to acknowledge the degree to which senior RCMP management had repeatedly protected Mr. Ortis from employee complaints and concerns.”
The employees also said they were investigated to determine whether they were complicit with Ortis. All were cleared. But they said the RCMP had not answered their questions about the “misappropriation and sale” of their intelligence work.
The RCMP finally began to look seriously into their concerns last December, when a review of Ortis’s “managerial actions” was ordered. The report, by Alphonse MacNeil, was submitted to the deputy commissioner on May 11, 2020.
A redacted version given to employees on June 26 concluded there had been a failure in leadership by senior management in handling the complaints against Ortis, the statement of claim said.
MacNeil also found that “senior management failed to act despite being made aware of Mr. Ortis’s treatment of NICC employees,” and that those placed in senior leadership positions needed to be better screened, the suit alleges.
The RCMP has not yet acted on the report, the employees said.
“In response to the MacNeil report, the RCMP continued to fail to act or take steps to address the concerns or harms identified since Mr. Ortis’s Sept. 2019 arrest,” it alleges.