Former RCMP boss Bob Paulson denies protecting alleged spy

Former RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson says he had a “friendly” relationship with Cameron Ortis, an alleged mole accused of selling top secret police intelligence. But Paulson denies he tried to protect Ortis, the former head of RCMP’s special intelligence unit.

Paulson is the first prominent RCMP figure to respond to explosive new allegations that senior RCMP managers failed to act on complaints and “repeatedly protected” Ortis for two years after allegations about his “strange and controlling” behaviour toward employees were first reported internally in early 2017.

Ortis, first hired by the RCMP in 2007, was arrested in September 2019 after an internal probe, triggered by an FBI investigation.

Four well-placed sources told Global News that former commissioner Paulson was instrumental in Ortis’s rapid rise in RCMP ranks. In 2016, Paulson, along with others on the RCMP senior executive committee, approved Ortis’s promotion as the National Intelligence Coordination Centre’s (NICC) first-ever civilian director-general.

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“My relationship with Cam was friendly and as I’ve said I was always impressed with him and his team’s work product, as were our partner agencies,” Paulson said in an email to Global News.

“I never protected Cam from any complaints or concerns.”

Paulson sent that email after initially declining to comment and abruptly terminating a phone call with Global News. But he subsequently addressed the allegations in a series of emails exchanged with Global News reporters.

Three former NICC employees raised the harassment allegations against Ortis in a new lawsuit filed in Ontario Superior Court. It alleges that soon after Ortis was promoted in 2016, he started to target and abuse his staff “as part of his larger plan to misappropriate their work and use it for personal gain.”

Read more: Senior RCMP officials ignored warnings about alleged mole Cameron Ortis, employees claim

According to the claim, an independent review concluded all levels of senior RCMP management failed to deal with the complaints against Ortis. The three plaintiffs in the case are not among the RCMP sources who spoke to Global News for this report.

The civil claim also states that after Ortis’s arrest, there were comments “from former Commissioner Paulson and other senior RCMP management that suggested, inaccurately, that no concerns had ever been raised about Mr. Ortis, that accepted little responsibility for facilitating Mr. Ortis’ rise within the RCMP, and that failed to acknowledge the degree to which senior RCMP management had repeatedly protected Mr. Ortis from employee complaints and concerns.”

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But in the emails he sent to Global News, Paulson, who served as RCMP commissioner from 2011 up until his resignation in June 2017, said he never received complaints about Ortis and that his relationship with Ortis wasn’t a factor in the RCMP’s failure on the Ortis file.

“I have not seen the civil claim, I didn’t understand that I was named in it, but no matter, your sources are wrong,” Paulson wrote to Global News.

“I never received any complaints about Cam and I was never advised of any complaints about Cam. You and your sources should check the timeline about when these complaints were made because I am not aware of them. I don’t know the complainants as identified in the media and they sure never communicated any misgivings about Cam to me.”

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Harassment concerns became a major issue during Paulson’s tenure at the RCMP, prompting him to issue a major apology in October 2016 to hundreds of women as part of a legal settlement with former employees in the force. The women had said in lawsuits that they were subjected to discrimination, bullying and a toxic work environment for decades.

Paulson said at that time that the police force had failed these women and promised to improve the workplace.

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Complaints started in 2017

The new civil court claim from August 2020 says a group of NICC employees raised their own allegations in a letter sent on Jan. 13, 2017 to Ortis. They also sent copies of the letter to RCMP assistant-commissioner and superintendent, and a member workplace assistance program, raising a number of concerns about Ortis’s conduct, according to the claim.

NICC staff had been suffering under Ortis’s command since 2016, the claim says, and by early 2017 half of the unit had left.

The NICC group made another “plea for assistance” to the RCMP deputy commissioner of federal policing in February 2017, but no appropriate action was taken by RCMP management, the claim says.

Paulson announced on March 6, 2017 that he would resign at the end of June, later that year, and the group’s complaints continued through that period. But despite the high-level complaints in early 2017, Paulson said he was never informed of concerns with Ortis.

Paulson was eventually replaced by Commissioner Brenda Lucki. The civil claim alleges that Lucki did not respond to complaints about Ortis sent to her corporate and personal email accounts. Paulson and Lucki were not named as defendants in the suit. And the defendants have not yet filed a defence.

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The sources said Paulson and Ortis were close personally when Paulson was made commissioner in 2011 and their “tight” relationship continued through 2017, when formal complaints against Ortis started. The sources said early in his career Ortis had become one of Paulson’s trusted advisors on sensitive international investigations. Further, a source said Ortis became so feared within the NICC that he earned the nickname “The Prince” because of his alleged Machiavellian scheming.

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Ortis is accused of providing sensitive police information to an unnamed foreign entity and RCMP targets including Vincent Ramos, the Richmond, B.C., man convicted in the United States of helping transnational drug cartels to evade police detection with encryption technology.

His lawyer didn’t respond to a request from Global News to answer questions for this story. The civil court allegations, filed Aug. 27, have not been tested in court. Ortis has not yet gone to criminal trial.

But as the internal concerns about Ortis and his unit mounted, RCMP “ladder climbers” including Paulson turned a blind eye, one of the sources claimed.

Three of the sources said although Paulson retired in June 2017 — and complaints about Ortis allegedly continued from 2017 into 2019 — Paulson should answer whether his friendly relations with Ortis played a role in the RCMP’s alleged failure to respond to abuse of power complaints against Ortis.

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One Global News source said that when a serious complaint was escalated to an RCMP assistant-commissioner in January 2017, based on RCMP management’s information sharing practices, it could be expected that Paulson would have been made aware.

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But another email response from Paulson to a Global News reporter reiterated “my position and the facts seem to demonstrate that these complaints (about Ortis) … all took place after I left.”

The sources say Paulson is the former RCMP leader most responsible for elevating Ortis into what sources describe as an unprecedented position of trust for a civilian in the RCMP — director-general of intelligence.

Paulson also rejected what a number of Global News sources say, about Ortis’s rapid and controversial rise in the RCMP, as a civilian academic.

Read more: RCMP working on ‘action plan’ after review finds leadership failure in Cameron Ortis case

“I liked him and respected him. I never personally promoted Cam and he never worked directly for me, although I and the senior executive committee ultimately approved all senior appointments, as we did in Cam’s case,” Paulson wrote.

“My view — up and until his arrest was that Cam Ortis was a highly educated, credentialled, and accomplished professional who performed at a very high level.”

Paulson also objected to allegations made by sources and in the civil claim that he and other leaders were protective of Ortis, and as a result, they failed to identify and prevent “Ortis’s criminal activites and an earlier stage.”

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“Of course I did not. I say it is irresponsible and immoral to ask a question like that and include it in a story thereby suggesting it, without some basis or some evidence,” Paulson said.

“I note that up until his publicly announced arrest I had no inkling that he was suspected of having done these criminal acts or that he was managing poorly or that he was a bully or had harassed anyone.”

Paulson added “I can’t for a second imagine that if anyone had some information — or even a mild suspicion — about Cam’s alleged illicit behaviour that they wouldn’t have acted immediately and directly to intercede.”

Paulson did not respond to a question from Global News asking whether other high-ranking RCMP managers that received complaints about Ortis in early 2017 could have failed to notify the commissioner about the harassment allegations.

Several sources told Global News that in the aftermath of Ortis’s case Canada’s intelligence allies, especially the United States, have diminished trust about Canada’s role in the so-called Five Eyes alliance.

One source said some of the world’s most elite and violent transnational criminals could have escaped international police because of the compromises allegedly caused by Ortis in the FBI probe of Vincent Ramos.

“The FBI and the U.S. has lost confidence in us,” a source said.

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The civil claim suggests that if RCMP leaders had responded to complaints against Ortis starting in 2017, the plaintiffs and Canadian citizens could have been protected from damages.

“Mr. Ortis and the Defendant (RCMP) … were recklessly indifferent and/or willfully blind to whether their wrongful actions and abuse of authority would cause injury to the Plaintiffs and/or the public,” the claim states.

“The Defendant’s actions and inactions not only resulted in its failure to protect the Plaintiffs but the failure to identify, intervene in, and prevent Mr. Ortis’s criminal activities at an earlier stage.”

No current or former RCMP leader is named in that allegation.

Ortis’s lawyer did not respond to questions from Global News about Ortis’s relationship with Paulson, and the civil claim against Ortis, including the allegation that he “deliberately abused his power, authority, and office” in the NICC.

Read more: Investigation into senior RCMP official stemmed from disruption of encrypted phone service: sources

The RCMP did not respond to a question from Global News about whether it ever examined or will examine whether nepotism was involved in Paulson or other RCMP leaders not responding to complaints about Ortis.

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The RCMP confirmed this week it is working on a “management action plan” after an independent review found that senior RCMP officials mishandled employee complaints about Ortis.

The review was conducted by Alphonse MacNeil, a former RCMP assistant commissioner, who conducted almost 60 interviews, including with current and former senior managers, and looked at “policies and procedures” to determine if they were adequate and management actions were proper, the RCMP said.

A redacted version of MacNeil’s review — given to employees on June 26 — concluded that “a failure in leadership occurred at all levels of senior management in the handling of the concerns and complaints against Mr. Ortis,” the suit against Ortis alleges.

And MacNeil found that “senior management failed to act despite being made aware of Mr. Ortis’s treatment of NICC employees,” it said, and “sought to avoid the situation, rather than act.”

The RCMP did not say how long it would take them to address the concerns raised in MacNeil’s report.

— With files from Abigail Bimman

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.