Wed, May 28, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Canadian foreign affairs minister quits over lapse

ERROR Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that Maxime Bernier's controversial relationship with a woman with ties to bikers played no role in the decision

AP , TORONTO

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Bernier, accompanied by Julie Couillard, arrives at his swearing-in ceremony in Ottawa on Aug. 14 last year.

PHOTO: AP

Canada's embattled foreign minister resigned after leaving classified documents at the home of a former girlfriend who had ties to members of a motorcycle gang.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Monday that he had accepted the resignation of Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Bernier, who came under fire in recent weeks amid reports that a former girlfriend had previous relationships with men linked to the Hell’s Angels.

“Mr Bernier has learned and informed me that he left classified documents in a nonsecure location. This is a serious error,” Harper said.

Harper said Bernier’s controversial relationship with the woman was not a factor in the resignation.

But it was announced as Bernier’s former girlfriend, Julie Couillard, was preparing to go on a French-language TV station to say that Bernier had been careless with classified documents.

“It’s only this error. It’s a very serious mistake for any minister. We must always accept responsibilities for the documents that are classified. The minister has immediately acknowledged the gravity of this mistake,” Harper said.

The documents were left at a private residence earlier this spring, Harper said in a statement. He did not say what the documents were or if they were shared with others.

Bernier wrote in a letter of resignation that he became aware on Sunday night that he had left behind classified documents at a private residence.

Couillard would not comment on the nature of the document except to say that Bernier left it behind at her place.

“Maxime came to see me and he left a document behind,” she said, explaining the document was left by accident.

She said she contacted a lawyer for advice, who told her it was the property of the government.

“The document was given back,” she said.

Couillard insisted she was doing the interview to re-establish her dignity and credibility after intense media scrutiny.

“I am definitely not a biker’s chick,” she said.

The former model said she had never done anything wrong and never been convicted of any crime. She said she told Bernier about her involvement with Quebec bikers shortly after she began dating him last summer.

“Maxime knew about it,” she said, noting he did not press her on the matter but seemed somewhat surprised.

Harper also did not say what the documents were or if they were shared with others.

Bernier wrote in a letter of resignation that he asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to conduct a thorough review of the situation.

In his letter of resignation, Bernier asked Foreign Affairs to conduct a thorough review of the situation.

“The security breach that occurred was my fault and my fault alone and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Bernier wrote.

Minister if International Trade David Emerson will take over as interim foreign minister.

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