James Leigh is an unforgettable man.
Tall and robust, Mr. Leigh strikes a formidable figure.
His cherubic face, ever-present baseball cap and gregarious disposition, belies a life full of intrigue and risk.
With his penchant for fast luxury cars, his sojourns to exotic, often dangerous, places, Mr. Leigh has also enjoyed living on the edge.
Now, he has been thrust into the centre of a political storm that has engulfed Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day.
The tempest was triggered by a report in The Globe and Mail on Saturday that the Alliance hired the former undercover agent for the U.S. Justice Department to unearth embarrassing information about the government. Mr. Day has since ordered the withdrawal of any job offer, and now denies ever meeting Mr. Leigh, although he said on Saturday that they had met.
Until now, The Globe and Mail had not named Mr. Leigh because he said he was the target of death threats. It also held back details that could have identified him.
But he has allowed other media outlets across the country to publish his name and hometown.
The Alliance began its enthusiastic and covert courting of him, despite his murky past, last year.
Two Alliance MPs, Myron Thompson and Darrel Stinson, visited Mr. Leigh at his modest, beautifully decorated home in London, Ont. Some of the visits occurred when Mr. Leigh was barred from leaving London because of troubles with police. (That restriction was lifted this year after criminal charges against him were withdrawn.)
Mr. Leigh's home on a quiet, residential street, is filled with treasured mementos of an adventurous life that has taken him around the globe, including Australia, Southeast Asia and China.
It was in his ramshackle basement office that Mr. Leigh, who is in his early 40s, regaled the Alliance MPs and a steady stream of journalists from as far away as Britain about his turbulent life as an undercover agent.
Born in Ontario and raised in Quebec, Mr. Leigh had a tough time of it as a teenager. It was during these difficult years that he developed his steely resolve and independent streak that has stood him in good stead later in life.
He traipsed across Canada on his beloved motorcycle, doing a variety of jobs along the way.
He then headed to Australia, a country for which he still has a fondness. There, Mr. Leigh has said, he was recruited and trained by an intelligence agency.
He travelled to Korea. He became friendly, Mr. Leigh has said, with Korean and U.S. intelligence officers and traded information with them.
But his crowning achievement came last year when U.S. authorities smashed a people-smuggling ring that was shipping Chinese migrants into the United States, via South Korea and Canada.
Mr. Leigh played a pivotal role in the dangerous undercover operation. Using his natural guile and charm, he was able to win the trust of high-level members of the criminal syndicate who were engineering the lucrative trade.
The gang leaders, including a senior Chinese army officer and police, became so comfortable in his presence that they allowed him to videotape their meetings and lavish parties in Fujian province, where food and women were bountiful.
After the investigation, he briefly went underground because of death threats against him and his family.
Before going public with his story about his dalliance with Alliance, Mr. Leigh seemed poised to disappear again. In a plaintive e-mail to a Globe reporter, Mr. Leigh said he longed for tranquillity.
"I don't care," he wrote, "I just want peace." Investigations@globeandmail.ca