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Spy case won't hurt Canada's reputation, MacKay says


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Defence Minister Peter MacKay is trying to reassure Canadians that allegations of espionage centring on a Halifax naval intelligence officer will not affect the country's reputation among other NATO members.

"Our allies have full confidence in Canada, full confidence in our information," MacKay said during a news conference in Ottawa late Tuesday morning.

MacKay was responding to questions about the case of Sub.-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle, 40, who was arrested in the Halifax area over the weekend. Delisle faces two charges under the Security of Information Act that deal with communicating information that could harm Canada's interests, according to court documents.

MacKay described the case as a matter of national security because of the charges involved. But he would not discuss specifics, including whether the foreign entity in question is Russia, as at least one intelligence expert has speculated.

"Given the early stages of the proceedings, there is really nothing more that can be said."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper declined to comment on the case, saying it relates to national security and is going to be before the courts.

Accused in custody

Delisle opted to stay in his Halifax jail cell rather than attend court Tuesday and was remanded into custody until his next court date Jan. 25.

Sub.-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle is escorted from provincial court in Halifax on Tuesday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)His defence lawyer, Cameron MacKeen, declined to comment on the case, saying only that there is a presumption of innocence until guilt is proven.

Delisle is accused of passing on state secrets twice, once at some point between 2007 and this year, and once last week.

Court documents also allege Delisle committed breaches of trust "in connection with the duties of his office," in violation of the Criminal Code.

There was no indication what information Delisle is accused of passing or to whom.

Worked at intelligence facility

A senior defence official told CBC News that Delisle worked for a unit called HMCS Trinity, an intelligence facility at the naval dockyard in Halifax. It tracks vessels entering and exiting Canadian waters via satellites, drones and underwater devices. The centre is a multinational base with access to secret data from NATO countries.

Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior intelligence officer at CSIS, said Delisle would have had access to sensitive information about "protecting the Atlantic, our naval fleet out of Halifax and NATO."

He also said the espionage court case may have implications for Canada's credibility.

"If our friends are not capable to trust us to protecting their secrets, they will not want to share secrets with us."

Juneau-Katsuya said the most likely culprit would be Russia, a country that has been trying to gather information about NATO and its members since the Cold War.


Spies and Canada's secrets An interactive chronology of key events involving spies and spyingWesley Wark, a security expert with the Munk Centre at the University of Toronto, pointed to China and Iran as two other nations with an interest in Canadian secrets. Whoever it was, Wark said Canadians shouldn't be surprised their military might be an espionage target.

"We have access to a lot of allied intelligence, so we're a perfect and natural target, even though we tend not to think of ourselves as such," he said.

Life sentence possible

The charges against Delisle are rare and serious. A breach of trust under the Criminal Code can net a five-year prison sentence, and convictions under the Security of Information Act can lead to life in prison.

While a copy of the charges allege information was passed to a foreign entity, the section of the act under which Delisle is charged also says the offence can include communicating information to a terrorist group.

A source says the Canadian Forces counter-intelligence branch is conducting a damage assessment as a result of this case.

On Monday, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson issued a statement saying the force is "not aware of any threat to public safety at this time from this situation."


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  • 1 year later...

Naval Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Delisle was in a Halifax courtroom for his sentencing hearing this week after pleading guilty in October to selling sensitive documents to Russian for more than four years.

Delisle is the first Canadian charged under the Security of Information Act, passed by Parliament in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Canadian government has tried to downplay the impact of the breach, while CSIS officials have testified in court that the damage could go as far as the potential loss of life.

This is a tough case for the judge because there is no real precedent on sentencing.

Intelligence and justice officials around the world will be watching today as a Halifax navy officer convicted of selling military secrets to Russia becomes the first person to be sentenced under Canada's Security of Information Act.

Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle will appear in Nova Scotia provincial court for a two-day hearing after pleading guilty in October to breach of trust and passing information to a foreign entity that could harm Canada's interests.

The landmark case has captivated legal experts, international allies and intelligence agencies eager to see how the Canadian judicial system handles the treason of one of its own.

The challenge for lawyers and Judge Patrick Curran is how to come up with an appropriate sentence without having case law to consult under the untested act.

"It's going to be a very difficult exercise because there just isn't really a range that's been set out under this legislation," Mike Taylor, Delisle's lawyer, said in an interview Wednesday.

"Although there will be comparisons to the [Official] Secrets Act … things are different and things have changed and the facts are different in those cases.

"We're comparing cases that don't necessarily lie on all fours. They're just not the same thing."

Taylor said he has been searching case law in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada but found little that matches the unique circumstances of the agent who walked into the Russian Embassy in Ottawa in 2007 to offer his services after his personal life began to unravel.

Legal scholars say Curran will have a tricky time settling on a sentence since he will be faced with general sentencing principles that don't fit well with this type of offence, decades-old espionage cases tried under another act and what are expected to be widely divergent recommendations from the Crown and defence.

It's expected the Crown will ask for a hefty sentence in the interests of deterrence and show its allies it's taking the matter seriously.

'Whatever the result, it'll be appealed'

Robert Currie, a professor of international criminal law at Dalhousie University, said the lawyers can apply standard sentencing guidelines, such as denunciation, deterrence, rehabilitation and reparations to the community, but that the gravity of the case makes it stand apart.

"The judge is going to have to reason from general principles of sentencing in a fairly new and specific context without really a lot of guidance," he said in Halifax.

"So I think we can be fairly confident that this will go to the higher levels, if not the highest levels of court. Whatever the result, it'll be appealed."

Taylor said he will argue that the damage Delisle is alleged to have done to Canada's relations with its allies and revelations about how its domestic spy service gathers intelligence has been overstated.

He will call a witness who is expected to challenge the damage assessments done by the Canada Security Intelligence Service, National Defence and Delisle's superior at Trinity — the military all-source intelligence "fusion" centre on the East Coast.

In an injury assessment presented at Delisle's bail hearing, a CSIS official bluntly said that, "Delisle's unauthorized disclosures to the Russians since 2007 has caused severe and irreparable damage to Canadian interests."

The divorced father of four had top secret clearance, giving him access to secure information from the Privy Council Office, CSIS, the RCMP and some databases of Canada's allies.

Delisle may take the stand

On Jan. 11, 2012, Delisle thought he was transferring two CSIS intelligence reports to the Russians labelled "Canadian Eyes Only" when they were, in fact, being intercepted by the RCMP, according to the injury assessment. He was arrested at his home days later.

Taylor said he will also raise the issue of security at Trinity and how easy it was for the threat assessment analyst to use a crude system of floppy discs, USB sticks and an email program to smuggle secretive material out and transfer it to the Russian military intelligence unit from his home.

"I have to comment on the security issue to counter some of the weight that they're trying to dump on him," he said.

It's not clear whether Delisle will take the stand, but Taylor said the court will hear about his worsening financial and personal troubles that allegedly motivated him to betray his country.

In a statement to police after his arrest, Delisle broke down and insisted that his treachery began after he discovered his wife was cheating on him.

"I walked right in that Embassy and I said: 'Here I am.' It wasn't for money. It was never for money," he told an officer. "I thought of suicide so many times, so many times. I just couldn't.

"So I committed professional suicide."

Crown attorney Lyne Decarie didn't want to comment on the case, saying only that she would call three witnesses. She has said one charge of breach of trust under the Criminal Code carries a maximum sentence of five years. The other two charges under the security act carry life sentences, though Decarie said she won't seek that.


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Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Delisle, the Halifax naval officer who sold secrets to Russia, has been given a 20-year prison sentence, with credit for time served. His sentence was lighter due to the fact of early admission of guilt and that the actions did not take place during war. He also received five years for breach of trust and $111,000 fine - if he does not or cannot pay the fine then the Crown may apply for additional prison time of two consecutive years (i.e. added to the 20 year sentence).


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