Canada foreign minister out over 'serious error'

Canada Foreign Minister Resigns
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier resigned Monday after admitting he left classified documents in a nonsecure location.Tom Hanson / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Canada's embattled foreign minister resigned after leaving classified documents at a private residence, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Monday, calling it "a serious error."

Harper said that he accepted the resignation of Maxime Bernier, who came under fire in recent weeks amid reports that a former girlfriend had previous relationships with Hells Angels motorcycle gang members.

"Mr. Bernier has learned and informed me that he left classified documents in a nonsecure location. This is a serious error," Harper said.

Harper said that Bernier's controversial relationship with the woman was not a factor in the resignation.

But it was announced as Bernier's former girlfriend, Julie Couillard, was preparing to go on a French-language television station to say that Bernier had been careless with classified documents.

"It's only this error. It's a very serious mistake for any minister. We must always accept responsibilities for the documents that are classified. The minister has immediately acknowledged the gravity of this mistake," Harper said.

The documents were left at a private residence, Harper said in a statement. He did not describe the documents, say if they were shared with others or provide other details.

Variety of gaffes
Bernier wrote in a letter of resignation that he became aware Sunday night that he had left behind classified documents at a private residence. He wrote that he asked for a thorough review of the situation.

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

Harper said David Emerson, the international trade minister, will take over as interim foreign minister.

Just hours before Bernier quit, Harper had dismissed the whole affair.

"I have no intention to comment on a minister's former girlfriend," Harper said earlier in the day. "I don't take this subject seriously."

Opposition Liberal Member of Parliament Ralph Goodale said the prime minister has a lot of explaining to do because he had dismissed the story for weeks.

Bernier has come under fire for a variety of gaffes, including promising aid for Myanmar on a plane that was not available.

Bernier first drew the attention of Canadians when he appeared at his swearing in ceremony last August with the provocatively dressed Couillard on his arm.