May 28, 2008

Adieu, Maxime Bernier! May the WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL find you!

Minister left classified NATO documents

TORONTO — The Canadian foreign minister who resigned this week for a security breach had left classified documents about a NATO summit at the home of his ex-girlfriend, the government said Tuesday.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it appeared that no confidential information had gotten out.

The foreign minister, Maxime Bernier, resigned Monday after leaving the documents at the home of Julie Couillard, who has generated controversy for past ties to members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang in Quebec. Harper called Bernier's security breach a "serious error."

Biker gangs have long gained attention in the French-speaking province and have been accused of trying to extend their influence to the government and the courts.

Conservative lawmaker Peter Van Loan said Tuesday that the documents were a mix of classified and public documents relating to the April NATO summit in Romania where Canada sought reinforcements for troops in Afghanistan.

"Thus far we have no information that would suggest that any secrets have been revealed," Harper said in Paris. He said the incident would be reviewed.

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

"Prime Minister, the security breach that occurred was my fault and my fault alone and I take full responsibility for my actions," Bernier wrote.

Couillard said she contacted a lawyer five weeks after he left the documents at her home in April. Couillard's lawyer returned them to the government on Sunday.

In an interview broadcast Monday, she denied ever reading the documents, saying "it was definitely not for my eyes."

"I was panicked by the fact that I had that at my house," Couillard said.

Opposition parties demanded that the government explain how it took them five weeks to realize the classified documents were missing. Opposition Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said Harper showed "appalling lack of judgment" for dismissing security concerns over Bernier's involvement with a woman with past ties to gang members, and called for a public inquiry.

But Harper said that Bernier's resignation has put an end to the matter. He named David Emerson, the international trade minister, to serve as interim foreign minister.

"As we've said, private lives are private lives and the government of Canada does not intend to get into the business of investigating private citizens," Harper said. "This has nothing to do with Madame Couillard. This was the unfortunate error, the unfortunate actions of the minister that are at issue here."

Bernier first drew the attention of Canadians when he appeared at his swearing-in ceremony in August with the provocatively dressed Couillard on his arm. Her former links to Hells Angels did not become public until recently.

Couillard had lived with Gilles Giguere, a well-known Montreal crime figure for three years beginning in 1993, who had ties to Maurice Boucher, the now-jailed leader of the Hells Angels in Quebec. Giguere was shot to death in 1996 when he decided to become a police informer after being arrested with a cache of submachine-guns and marijuana.

She later married Stephane Sirois, who admitted to being an enforcer for a Hells Angels-affiliated biker club. He later turned informant and testified against a dozen of his former colleagues in a 2002 trial. The two divorced in 1999.

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 in the summer of 2007.

"I am definitely not a biker's chick," she said.

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