Canadian foreign minister quits over secret papers

Mon May 26, 2008 10:16pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren and Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier resigned on Monday after it emerged he had left classified documents in the apartment of a former girlfriend who was once linked to organized crime figures.

"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," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Bernier, 45, had been under increasing pressure to quit amid revelations about the personal life of Julie Couillard, the former girlfriend. Couillard said Bernier had forgotten a document in her apartment in April.

"He came to my place, then he left, and the document remained with me," she told the French-language TVA network in an interview shown late on Monday. She said she had given the document to a lawyer who returned it to the government.

Trade Minister David Emerson will replace him on a temporary basis.

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 on a promise to clean up federal politics.   Continued...

<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>