As a spy, he was said to be sloppy. So sloppy that his masters would complain he "compromised" security and "jeopardized" their credibility – just by showing up for work.
But Marc-André Bergeron, fired four years ago for alleged incompetence, has been vindicated by winning his claim of wrongful dismissal.
In doing so, he has revealed a rather remarkable state of affairs at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. CSIS, whose bosses lament that they are held to impossible legal standards in court cases involving terrorism, couldn't muster sufficient proof to fire one of their own.
"The employer failed to discharge its burden to present the necessary evidence," a federal tribunal ruled in mid-August, ordering Mr. Bergeron's reinstatement or an alternate "appropriate remedy."
Although not the first intelligence officer to try to grieve his way back into CSIS, Mr. Bergeron is a rare successful complainant. Representing himself, he argued that he fell victim to unfair processes involving a "lack of transparency," which left him "unable to explain himself" – defences that seem somewhat reminiscent of those used by suspects targeted in some of CSIS's terrorism cases.
For his part, Mr. Bergeron contends that he always "complied with CSIS values" and that he gave "the best that he had to offer." According to a synopsis of the case, he feels a personality conflict led to his ouster: "With the arrival of his new supervisor, he had shaken hands with the devil and he could do nothing to make him happy."
The grievance ruling is now posted on the website of the Public Service Labour Relations Board, which adjudicates such disputes. Spy-watchers will likely be disappointed by the lengthy judgment. It suggests CSIS's work is not so much clandestine and cloak and dagger as highly bureaucratic – familiar to anyone who works in a large office.
In fact, the case of Mr. Bergeron, who worked for CSIS from 2003 to 2007, boils down to a series of subpar annual performance reviews. He was an intelligence officer in Montreal when he got a letter from a top boss. "You do not have the skills and abilities needed to be an intelligence officer at the CSIS," the letter said, flatly informing him he had been fired.
The letter was written by Michel Coulombe, Quebec director at the time and now the No. 2 official at CSIS. It did not go into detail. In subsequent testimony, Mr. Coulombe was cryptic, saying only that "the incidents reported in the grievor's performance evaluations jeopardized CSIS's credibility and the effectiveness of its operations and, more than once, compromised its security."
Firings are rare at CSIS, given all the time and money it invests in employees. Plus there is an institutional risk – disgruntled employees "depart with substantial knowledge that could harm CSIS," Mr. Coulombe testified, according to the synopsis.
Ultimately, the matter landed at the federal labour board. There, it turned less on the competing claims than on a technicality.
CSIS had failed to make good on a legal obligation to inform Mr. Bergeron, in writing, of his alleged shortcomings prior to firing him. This was "sufficient to invalidate the termination," according to the board's adjudicator, Michele Pineau.
On Monday, a CSIS spokeswoman wouldn't comment on the case. The Globe and Mail could not reach Mr. Bergeron directly.
It's unclear whether he is back at work today.