HALIFAX – Just over a year after his web of deceit unravelled in a drab police office, a Canadian naval officer convicted of selling secrets to Russian agents rose in court and issued a simple, 30-second apology.
Staring at the judge and with his mother sitting behind him, Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle for the first time publicly acknowledged his years of treachery and the emotional toll it took on his family.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to my children, my parents and my family,” he said in a hushed provincial court in Halifax on Friday, slowing once to contain his emotions.
“I love them very much and I’m sorry for the hurt and the pain that I caused them. It’s the same for my friends and my colleagues.
“If I could go back in time I would, but I can’t and so thank you.”
Delisle, 41, pleaded guilty last October to breach of trust and espionage after he was caught trying to transmit sensitive military information to Russian agents who had been receiving a treasure trove of data from him for almost five years.
Crown attorney Lyne Decarie asked for a sentence of at least 20 years in prison for communicating information to a foreign entity that could harm Canada’s interests, and five years for breach of trust. They would be served concurrently.
She left it to the judge’s discretion whether to sentence Delisle further for a second count of communicating information to a foreign entity.
The defence is seeking a sentence of about nine to 10 years for all of the offences. Both agreed to a fine of $111,817, which was based on the amount of money Delisle collected from his Russian bosses over the years.
Judge Patrick Curran reserved his decision until next Friday.
Decarie argued that Delisle’s actions warranted a stiff sentence because his activities damaged Canada’s relations with its allies, endangered intelligence agents and exposed their methods of gathering top-secret material.
Not only did this involve Canadian intelligence, but material shared by the so-called Five Eyes community of Canada, the U.S., Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
“It’s a complete disregard — a complete disregard — for the safety of these individuals,” Decarie said in her closing arguments. “I believe there was very serious harm done to Canada.”
Decarie said the father of four blamed others for his troubles, didn’t try to protect intelligence sources, volunteered his services rather than being recruited and jeopardized the safety of his loved ones.
“And for what reason? He was going through marital problems. He was upset,” Decarie said, adding that many people experience similar problems.
“I’m glad they don’t all walk into the Russian embassy and betray Canada.”
Video provided Friday by the Crown showed the moment Delisle cracked under questioning by an RCMP officer in a grey-panelled room on Jan. 13, 2012.
Slumped in a chair and wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt and jeans, Delisle finally confesses to Jim Moffatt, who patiently reveals that they have been monitoring his email and have screen grabs showing communications with his Russian agent.
“So you know Jeff, we have you, OK — you’re so caught Jeff, you wouldn’t believe it,” Moffatt says to him. “There is always a reason why people do a thing they do.”
At that point, Delisle crumbles and describes how he felt after discovering that his wife of 19 years cheated on him twice.
“I am so dead. I … my wife, that I loved for so long, killed me … killed me,” he said weakly, breaking down in tears. “And the pain of her betrayal and the pain she put my children through killed me.”
Delisle, a father of four, said he wanted to commit suicide but couldn’t leave his four children. So, he told the officer, he “committed professional suicide” by turning himself over to the Russians.
In the end, Delisle divulged how he walked into the Russian Embassy in Ottawa in 2007 and spent years funnelling classified data to them for monthly payments of about $3,000.
The naval threat assessment analyst detailed how he used a crude system of floppy discs and memory sticks to smuggle information out of Halifax’s HMCS Trinity, the military all-source intelligence centre on the East Coast.
He also told Moffatt that he was taken aback by the number of Russian agents working in Ottawa.
“Ottawa is crawling (with) GRU,” Delisle said, referring to the Russian intelligence agency. “I was surprised.”
Central to the case was the dispute over the extent of the damage Delisle did to Canada’s position in the intelligence-gathering world.
Days after Delisle’s arrest, Defence Minister Peter MacKay asserted that his crimes did nothing to affect international relations. But Brig.-Gen. Rob Williams, director general of military signals intelligence, contradicted that assessment in his testimony Thursday, saying it caused “exceptionally grave damage.”
Decarie warned that Delisle’s actions might also mean that Canada won’t receive certain intelligence from allies concerned that their information cannot be protected.
The court also heard that U.S. intelligence officials have told their Canadian counterparts to tighten security practices in light of weaknesses in the system that allowed Delisle to leak information. A Crown witness testified Canada could be frozen out of the intelligence-sharing network if that is not done by a certain time. That deadline was not specified in court.
Defence lawyer Mike Taylor said it wasn’t Delisle’s intention to make money off the covert relationship, even though he ended up receiving $71,817 over almost five years and about $40,000 from a Russian agent in Brazil in 2011.
Instead, Delisle became “ensnared” in the arrangement and feared retribution from the Russians if he tried to get out, Taylor said.
Delisle is the first person to be sentenced under Canada’s Security of Information Act, which was passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Because of that, legal experts say it could be difficult for the judge to come up with a sentence since there is no case law to consult and the charge is so rare.
Delisle joined the navy as a reservist in 1996, became a member of the regular forces in 2001 and was promoted to an officer rank in 2008.