Canadian foreign minister quits over secret papers

Mon May 26, 2008 7:52pm EDT
 
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier resigned on Monday after admitting that he had left classified documents in an unsafe place, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

Bernier had been under increasing pressure to quit amid revelations that a former girlfriend was suspected of being linked to figures in organized crime.

"Minister Bernier has learned and informed me that he left classified government documents in a non-secure location. This is a serious error. (He) has accepted his responsibilities in offering to resign," a grim-faced Harper told reporters.

Harper gave no further details and it was unclear whether Bernier had left the documents with Julie Couillard, the former girlfriend. An interview with her was set to be shown at 9:00 p.m. EDT on Monday on Canadian television.

Bernier, who took over the job last August, had also been under fire for a series of recent gaffes.

Most notably, he embarrassed Ottawa in April by openly suggesting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai replace the governor of Kandahar province. Canada has 2,500 troops based in the southern Afghan city.

Bernier was the first minister to quit the cabinet under a cloud since the Conservatives won power in January 2006. Harper said Trade Minister David Emerson would take over as foreign minister on a temporary basis.

(Reporting by Randall Palmer; Writing by David Ljunggren; Editing by Eric Walsh)

 
<p>Canada's Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 7, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>