01/26/2012 08:46 EST | Updated 03/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Spy Scandal Case Likely Expensive To Prosecute


Criminal law experts say prosecuting a spy scandal case involving a Canadian naval officer will likely present a steep and expensive learning curve for everyone involved.

Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Delisle, who lives in the Bedford area of Halifax, was charged earlier this month with two counts of breaching the Security of Information Act by allegedly passing secrets to a foreign entity.

The charges deal with communicating information that could harm Canada's interests.

It's the first time someone has been charged under the section of the Security of Information Act that covers communications with foreign entities or terrorist groups. That section was introduced after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S.

"It seems like it's pretty new territory," said Wayne MacKay, a law professor at Dalhousie University.

"Whenever you're doing something like that where there's not a lot of precedent, not a lot of previous experience, usually that means it's going to take longer to argue the law to get everybody up to speed to do the research."

Delisle, a 40-year-old officer with the Canadian Forces, is alleged to have have committed the crimes while he was on duty. Yet, he's facing the civilian justice system rather than a military one.

"There is always an element of tactics in how you do these things," said MacKay.

Military courts martial are reserved for members of the Canadian Forces. The accused has the right to a military lawyer, free of charge. A case may drag on for several years at no cost to the accused.

Joel Pink, a well-known defence lawyer in Halifax, said a civilian trial will be very different.

"I expect it will be expensive. Once again, it'll depend on the lawyer," he told CBC News.

"When you start with no precedent and you start having to learn the whole system, then of course it's going to take a lot of time and could be very expensive for the client."

The maximum penalty for a person found to be guilty of spying is life imprisonment.