12/03/2013 11:29 EST | Updated 02/02/2014 05:59 EST

B.C. Mountie James MacLeod returning to job after 8-year fight

A Mountie in British Columbia is going back to work against the wishes of the RCMP commissioner, in a case that illustrates how the head of the force can be powerless in disciplinary matters.

Eight years ago a woman accused Const. James Douglas MacLeod of sexual assault, an allegation that was never proven in court because the charge was stayed. An RCMP adjudication board determined MacLeod's conduct was still disgraceful and ordered him to resign or be fired. MacLeod appealed twice and won both times.

The woman alleged in 2005 that she had been at a house party when she was drugged and sexually assaulted by a man, and that MacLeod, who was off-duty at the time, joined in later.

When the adjudication board ordered the constable to step down, MacLeod appealed to the RCMP's external review committee, an independent civilian body. The committee found problems with the credibility of the complainant and recommended Commissioner Bob Paulson overturn the findings of the adjudication board.

Paulson refused and upheld the original order for MacLeod to resign within 14 days or face dismissal.

Federal Court sides with Mountie

MacLeod stepped down, but he also appealed to the Federal Court for judicial review. In July 2013, Justice Daniele Tremblay-Lamer issued a ruling that quashed Paulson's order and upheld the earlier finding of the external review committee​.

"The commissioner failed to consider the evidence suggesting that the complainant also exhibited consent to the sexual activity through her conduct," she wrote in the decision.

Paulson responded to the ruling with a blistering letter to the external review committee saying he believes MacLeod's behaviour "falls so far short of organizational expectations that is is disgraceful ... that a member of this force can engage in such drunken depravity in a manner that gives rise to a very public examination of the conduct is a threat to the integrity of the organization."

He added that he was disappointed MacLeod would escape sanction and that, "I reluctantly then, overturn the [adjudication] board's finding that the allegation was established and reinstate [the appellant]."

MacLeod's lawyer did not respond to email or phone messages, but a spokesperson for the Mounties said the constable is in the process of filling out the necessary paperwork in B.C. and once that's complete, he will be given a posting.

Simon Fraser University criminology professor Rob Gordon said this kind of public spat is "a rarity" and illustrates why Paulson wants to streamline the process for disciplining officers.

"He's trying to accomplish reform in the RCMP that's difficult at the best of times and this case doesn't help him," said Gordon.

Legislation passed by Parliament aims to reduce red tape and speed up the force's disciplinary procedures but the commissioner's decisions remain subject to judicial review.