11/26/2014 04:27 EST | Updated 01/26/2015 05:59 EST

Court sets aside RCMP commissioner's 'unreasonable' decision in grievance case

OTTAWA - A federal judge has overruled the RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson's "unreasonable" decision to deny a staff sergeant's bid for promotion because of long-discounted misconduct allegations.

In a decision made public Wednesday, Federal Court Justice John O'Keefe directs Paulson "to do as much as he can" to ensure Staff Sgt. Walter Boogaard is elevated to the rank of inspector.

The Mountie's lawyer, Paul Champ, said Wednesday the drawn-out case illustrates there is persistent bitterness and dysfunction within the national police force despite promises of change.

Boogaard has twice successfully completed the force's officer candidate program and has many positive job appraisals. But he has been unable to win promotion to inspector due to an incident 14 years ago in which his gun was stolen by two women.

The women said Boogaard had picked them up and was trying to buy sex from one when the other pinched the firearm — a version of events the officer denies.

Boogaard's account — that the gun was stolen from his vehicle — was accepted when the matter was addressed by the police force at the time. He was reprimanded and ordered to forfeit five days' pay.

He was promoted twice through the non-commissioned ranks but then passed over for inspector. Boogaard later learned the chair of the board that disciplined him had told his career development adviser "there may have been more to the disciplinary matter."

The revelation prompted Boogaard to file a harassment complaint, which he later grieved and took to the courts.

Meanwhile, Boogaard was selected for an officer's posting in Saskatchewan and his file was forwarded to the RCMP commissioner for approval.

The commissioner examined a copy of the investigation report underlying the firearm incident and his concerns — which he shared with Boogaard's commanding officer — effectively led to denial of the promotion.

Champ wrote to Paulson in July last year asking him to approve his client's advancement based on the findings of a judge and an adjudicator, both of whom looked into Boogaard's harassment complaint.

In a September 2013 letter to Champ, Paulson said the disciplinary proceedings for the firearm incident were "silent on the full nature of the events" and that Boogaard did not embody the core values of the RCMP.

Paulson suggested Boogaard might one day be considered for promotion if he chose to "come clean" and "explain his behaviour." But for now, the commissioner said, he would not be promoting him and Boogaard should therefore consider whether he still belonged on the force.

In his ruling, O'Keefe said Paulson could not revisit the 2000 incident and "substitute his own judgment" for the board that ruled on the gun's disappearance.

O'Keefe said that given the "serious delays" in the case, waiting any longer could bring the administration of justice into disrepute. As a result, he ordered the commissioner to do everything possible to promote Boogaard to inspector once an opening becomes available.

Champ said Wednesday the RCMP is still ailing seven years after an inquiry found despair, disillusionment and anger in the force.

"Canadians have an interest in an RCMP that is fair to its members because a high level of service comes from people who are proud and motivated, not a toxic workplace where officers are afraid to offend the wrong senior officer and end up in the penalty box," Champ said.

"And that means a grievance and promotion system that is based on integrity, transparency and fairness."

The RCMP had no immediate comment on the court ruling.

Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter