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Ex-lover costs foreign minister his job

The Canadian foreign affairs minister, who has been under fire for his former girlfriend's past links with Hells Angeles biker gangs, resigns.
IANS | By Gurmukh Singh, Toronto
UPDATED ON MAY 27, 2008 10:58 AM IST

A former lover has cost the Canadian foreign affairs minister his job.

Maxime Bernier, who has been under fire for his former girlfriend's past links with biker gangs, resigned Monday for what the government called his lapse in leaving classified government documents in a “non-secure place.''

Though the “non-secure place” was not mentioned by the government, it was the apartment of the minister's former lover, Julie Couillard, who reportedly had past links to Hells Angeles biker gangs. These gangs are known to have planted moles in government departments and agencies.

Security professionals would now look at risk assessment from the exposure of these classified documents.

The minister and Couillard came under the spotlight May 7 when the media reported that she had past links to the notorious Hells Angels biker gangs - she married and divorced a gang biker, and had a live-in relationship with another till 1999.

Later, the 39-year-old former model lived with another gang biker till 2005 before she met Bernier who became a Canadian cabinet minister in early 2006.

The gorgeous woman made also headlines in August 2007 when dressed in a plunging neckline she accompanied Bernier for his swearing-in as minister for foreign affairs.

She took active part in the minister's office work and went abroad with him.

When the media blew the cover on her past, she virtually went into hiding and the minister ducked for cover even as the ruling party and the prime minister defended Bernier.

In fact, till mid-day Monday, the prime minister said, ``I have no intention to comment on a minister's former girlfriend. I don't take this subject seriously.''

But later in the day, he had to sugarcoat the minister's exit orders, saying, ``Mr. Bernier has learned and informed me that he left classified government documents in a non-secure location. This is a serious error and the minister has accepted his responsibility.''

The prime minister added, ``I don't think it matters who a minister is dating. I don't think it matter about the private life of some private citizen. What matters here is the rules respecting government classified documents were broken.''

Critics and the opposition pummeled the minister, alleging that his friendship with Couillard compromised national security because of her past links to biker gangs.

As per rules, Canadian ministers are screened and vetted before taking oath. Later, they have to inform the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) about any changes in their lives - divorce or marital discord.

Being the foreign affairs minister, Bernier needed the highest level clearance.

Critics wonder whether Bernier informed the PMO about the model in his life which would have necessitated checks on her past.

Since it has also been reported in the media that she headed a high-tech firm looking airport security and received secret national security documents till 2005, the opposition wants her role in that firm probed.

Curiously, the woman at the centre of the scandal broke her silence on the issue precisely when her former lover was being shown the door.

In a TV interview on Monday, she said that she has been treated unfairly and her has been name sullied.

Hitting out at Bernier, she said that she was abandoned by the minister, leaving her to fend for herself. She has nothing to hide and she wants to tell the truth, she said.

The former model, who is now a real estate agent, said she wants to clear her name as she can no longer work under these circumstances.

The political fall-out from the scandal is bound to hit the minority Conservative government which is eager for a snap poll to get a majority in the House of Commons.

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