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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The foreign minister faced pressure to quit on Thursday, as the opposition questioned his judgment and charged he had had a relationship with a woman who once had ties to organized crime.
"As head of Canada's diplomatic corps ... how can he explain that a relationship with a person who had ties with organized crime would be without consequence?" deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff asked of Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier in the House of Commons.
The Globe and Mail newspaper said on Thursday that court documents from a 2003 trial said the woman, who accompanied Bernier to his swearing-in ceremony as foreign minister last August, had been married to a man who had belonged to a puppet gang of the Hells Angels.
It quoted her ex-husband as saying that a Hells Angel kingpin had put a contract out on her, and said she told the paper she had no criminal record, and her ex-husband had no credibility.
Bernier, already under pressure over a series of diplomatic gaffes, said the matter was none of Parliament's business.
"This is about my private life, the private life in the past of my ex-girlfriend. People's private lives are none of your business," he told Parliament.
Ignatieff said it very much was of public interest.
"Questions about ministerial judgment and national security are not a private matter. They are everyone's business and we will raise them in this House," Ignatieff said.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper criticized Liberal leader Stephane Dion and Gilles Duceppe, leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois, for raising the issue at all.
"I hear that one of my cabinet ministers has an ex-girlfriend. It's none of my business, it's none of Mr Duceppe's business, none of Mr Dion's business. Mr Duceppe and Mr Dion are quite a group of gossipy old busybodies," he said.
Additional reporting by David Ljunggren and Louise Egan; editing by Janet Guttsman