Canada gets new foreign minister, disgraced predecessor claims innocence (Lead)

June 26th, 2008 - 2:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, June 26 (IANS) David Emerson has been named Canada’s new foreign minister even as his predecessor denied knowing that his ex-lover, at whose place he left classified documents, had links with organised crime. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appointed the highly regarded International Trade Minister Emerson as the new foreign affairs minister.

His predecessor Maxime Bernier said Wednesday that he knew nothing about the past life of Julie Couillard when he dated her.

Couillard, dubbed the Mata Hari of Canada for bringing down the foreign minister, was exposed last month for her past ties to criminal Hells Angels biker gangs.

She had married and divorced one gang member, had a live-in relationship with another and also dated a mafioso.

In a TV interview after her past was revealed, she said the minister knew about her past relationships.

Breaking his silence over the issue, disgraced minister Bernier clarified that he didn’t know about his former lover’s past ties to biker gangs.

“She did not tell me and nobody else ever did, in whichever capacity. I only knew about her past what she willingly told me,” he said while speaking in his constituency near Quebec city.

He said he came to know about her past only April 20 when their relationship had already ended.

Bernier also clarified that the secret government documents he left at his lover’s apartment were just briefing notes meant to prepare him for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) summit held in Bucharest in the first week of April.

“These briefing notes were not sensitive enough to be bar-coded, which explains why their disappearance did not set any alarms in my department,” he clarified.

The appointment of David Emerson as new foreign affairs minister - he was temporarily put in charge of the ministry after Bernier resigned - has been viewed favourably as he is one the most capable ministers in Harper’s cabinet.

The prime minister also made three changes in his ministry.

Michael Fortier was sworn in as minister of international trade, Christian Paradis as minister of public works and government services, and James Moore as secretary of state (for Asia-Pacific Gateway, 2010 Olympics and official languages).

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