A senior RCMP officer has joined a lawsuit alleging the police force’s top management protected alleged mole Cameron Ortis from repeated complaints years before his arrest on security breach charges.
In newly filed court records, Supt. Marie-Claude Arsenault said that when she worked under Ortis in 2016 and 2017, his conduct was so concerning that she suspected he was trying to “deliberately sabotage” RCMP intelligence.
But while she repeatedly warned her superiors about the “bizarre and alarming behaviour,” she alleged the concerns were not taken seriously and she transferred out of the national intelligence centre, which Ortis headed.
Arsenault, who reported directly to Ortis, is the first RCMP officer to sign on to a case alleging senior RCMP officials “repeatedly protected” Ortis from staff complaints as he was allegedly stealing and selling their work.
The other three plaintiffs are civilian RCMP employees who also worked for Ortis at the RCMP’s National Intelligence Coordination Centre (NICC).
The addition of a high-ranking officer to the case may add credibility to the claims of the civilian employees who say their complaints about Ortis were ignored.
A civilian bureaucrat who was appointed director-general of RCMP intelligence in March 2016, Ortis was arrested in September 2019 on numerous counts alleging he had offered up sensitive police secrets, including to an as-yet unnamed foreign entity.
The civil court case, launched last August, alleges that senior RCMP officials failed to act on staff complaints about Ortis’s behaviour for more than two years before his arrest.
The government has filed papers in court indicating that it intends to defend itself from the allegations. Ortis has not yet gone to trial on multiple charges of breaching state secrets.
The RCMP said it could not comment “as this matter is before the courts.” Ortis’s lawyer could not be reached for comment. Arsenault’s lawyer, Morgan Rowe, also declined to comment.
But the documents adding Arsenault to the court case describe her as a 33-year RCMP veteran with experience in serious and organized crime, proceeds of crime and criminal intelligence.
Arsenault served as the RCMP’s human trafficking national co-ordinator until 2013, when she was transferred to the newly created NICC, where she was responsible for the National Intelligence Priorities and Coordination Unit. In September 2014, she also took over the NICC cyber team.
When the head of the NICC retired in 2016, Arsenault served as acting deputy director. Although not an RCMP officer, Ortis was considered a shining star by RCMP brass and was given the permanent job.
The problems began soon after Ortis was put in charge of the NICC, according to the allegations.
“Shortly after Mr. Ortis’s appointment and on an ongoing basis thereafter, Ms. Arsenault observed, and was frequently the target of, Mr. Ortis’s harassing and abusive conduct,” the suit alleges.
Not only did Ortis put down his staff, including Arsenault, he also “made repeated, disparaging comments about the RCMP in general and about other members of RCMP management,” according to the allegations.
“Ms. Arsenault also frequently observed Mr. Ortis lying to exaggerate his role in the NICC and to disparage and discredit NICC employees,” it continues.
While Ortis “claimed to have been directed by senior RCMP management to ‘fix the NICC,'” his superior “denied having given him any such instruction,” the complaint alleges.
He also claimed to have spent hours revising the work of his staff, but Arsenault said when she compared the final product to the work of the NICC staff, few changes had been made.
After receiving complaints from staff, Arsenault confronted Ortis and “he became defensive, dismissive, or appeared more interested in locating the source of the complaints than in addressing the underlying concerns,” the suit alleges.
Arsenault said she went to the assistant commissioner with the concerns in July 2016.
“The assistant commissioner responded that he did not want to deal with another harassment complaint and said that he would speak to Mr. Ortis. However, there was no change in Mr. Ortis’s behaviour following this conversation. Indeed, Mr. Ortis’s behaviour continued to worsen,” according to the statement of claim.
Arsenault said she learned that Ortis was “increasingly centralizing all decisions with respect to human resources and staffing under his control and refusing to consult with anyone else,” the claim alleges.
“When Ms. Arsenault attempted to challenge Mr. Ortis on these decisions, particularly in the Fall of 2016, Mr. Ortis once again became hostile and defensive and took steps to further side-line Ms. Arsenault.”
Eight months after Ortis took over the NICC, Arsenault said she was fearing for her job.
“By this time, Ms. Arsenault had also become extremely concerned that Mr. Ortis was engaged in an effort to deliberately sabotage the NICC unit’s work, discredit the NICC’s files, ruin the credibility of existing NICC employees, and ultimately centralize all RCMP intelligence exclusively under his control,” the statement of claim alleges.
Arsenault went to the assistance commissioner again in December 2016 but “he appeared disengaged throughout the conversation” and later told managers to “stop coming to him with concerns,” she said.
A conflict management process was initiated but collapsed.
“In June 2017, as she could no longer tolerate the stress and negative health consequences of reporting to Mr. Ortis, Ms. Arsenault transferred out of the NICC,” according to her claim.
Before leaving, she met the new assistant commissioner “to again outline her concerns with respect to Mr. Ortis, his behaviour generally, and his impact on the NICC.”
But she “left the meeting once again discouraged and frustrated, with the distinct impression that senior management would protect Mr. Ortis regardless of the concerns raised by employees.”
Following Ortis’s arrest, the RCMP brought in an outside consultant to review the problems in the NICC.
The review by Alphonse MacNeil found that senior management failed to act despite being made aware of staff concerns, and that the RCMP’s harassment complaint system was “significantly flawed,” according to the lawsuit.
MacNeil’s report has not yet been publicly released.
The RCMP has said “there is no room for harassment in the RCMP” and it was developing an action plan based on the review’s recommendations.