Foreign minister of Canada quits over 'biker's moll' girlfriend
Wednesday 28 May 2008
The curtain came down yesterday on the brief and embattled cabinet career of Canada's Foreign Minister after a scandal involving his relationship with a woman who was once linked to criminal biker gangs.
The gaffe-prone Maxime Bernier – who promised to send Burma aid on a plane that does not exist and was sworn in with the so-called bikers' moll on his arm –will likely be remembered for longer than he served as his exit cast fresh doubts on the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The resignation came only hours before a television interview with the Julie Couillard, 38, was due to be broadcast. Her life and loves have become a staple for the Canadian press as they have raked over her supposed live-in mobster lover who was murdered, her subsequent marriage to a biker and her latest relationship to the man who became Canada's Foreign Minister.
For weeks, Canada's conservative Prime Minister has been defending Mr Bernier's right to privacy over his relationship with Ms Couillard. The dam finally burst hours before her broadcast.
"This is not to do with the minister's private life... I don't think it matters who a minister is dating," Mr. Harper had said before departing for Europe.
But on Monday, Mr Bernier was forced to walk the plank just before Ms Couillard revealed on television she had discovered secret Nato documents in her apartment after one of the minister's visits. Within 24 hours of the classified documents being returned, Mr Bernier was out of a job.
Ms Couillard spiced up the grey world of Canadian politics last August when she wore a jaw-dropping dress at her boyfriend's swearing in ceremony. That earned him a rebuke from Prime Minister Harper.
When he introduced Ms Couillard to President George Bush at a summit, there was only admiration.
"Well, well, well, haven't you been keeping good company," Mr Bush told Mr Bernier when he approached the couple.
In office, Mr Bernier seemed to attract controversy. In April, Mr Bernier had to retract comments calling for the removal of Kandahar's governor Asadullah Khalid, and recently he promised to deliver aid to Burma on a Canadian cargo plane that was unavailable. Mr. Bernier also managed to get the name of the Haitian President wrong in Canada's House of Commons.
Ms Couillard said she told Mr Bernier about the biker past of her ex-husband and ex-boyfriend from the "very beginning" of their relationship. The two had been seeing each other for more than a month before he asked her to be his official companion for the purposes of taxpayer-funded government travel, she said. "Already then, Maxime was completely aware of everything."
She said Mr Bernier told her she had not had an easy life but did not question much more, and as far as she knows, did not inform anyone in government. It was a stream of revelations about Ms Couillard's Hells Angels associates and biker husband that brought Mr Bernier's career low.
The two met at a dinner party in 2007 and she claims she was approached by the Conservatives to become a parliamentary candidate. However, the relationship was ending at the time Mr Bernier left the sensitive documents at her flat in April. Ms Couillard kept them while controversy raged about her links to Montreal's Hells Angels.
Ms Couillard had a three-year relationship to a mob enforcer, Giles Giguere, which ended with his death in 1996. He became a police informant after being arrested with a stash of submachine guns and was found dead in a ditch. The gang also considered killing Ms Couillard in the Nineties Quebec biker wars.
In her TV interview, Ms Couillard said she had lived with two men who were "not choir boys."
Ms Couillard then married Stephane Sirois, a key lieutenant of Montreal's former Hells Angels boss, Maurice Boucher. Ms. Couillard said she warned Mr Bernier about the biker past of her ex-husband and deceased former boyfriend from the "very beginning".
In 1997, she began dating and later married Mr Sirois, an enforcer for a biker gang named the Rockers. He too became an informant and subsequently testified against a dozen fellow bikers at a trial 2002. The couple divorced in 1999.
"When I met Stephane, yes he was a biker and I told him that I was not interested in seeing him because of that fact," she said. "Stephane made a choice of leaving the biker gang that he was with, the Rockers, and while I was with him he was not a biker any more." She denied being a "biker's chick" and said that she had no contact with that world.
But the revelations that Ms Couillard had links to Quebec bikers during a vicious turf war over drugs, brought her relationship with Mr Bernier to the floor. Ms Couillard now says the controversy has destroyed her career as an estate agent and that she has been hiding out in her apartment for the past three weeks.
She sais she went public in order to regain her credibility, saying: "I was humiliated as a woman, I haven't done anything wrong."
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