`Mata Hari of Canada` to be quizzed by parliament panel

June 9th, 2008 - 12:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, June 9 (IANS) The woman who has been described as the “Mata Hari of the 450″ (area code of Canadian capital Ottawa) for bringing down the foreign affairs minister will appear before a parliamentary panel this week. Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier resigned last month after reports that his girlfriend Julie Couillard had past links to criminal biker gangs. What compounded Bernier’s (and the government’s) embarrassment were the revelations that he had left sensitive classified documents at her apartment where they stayed for five weeks before the woman returned them to the government.

The political parties seized on it, saying the minister compromised national security by leaving sensitive documents with someone with a criminal past.

The 39-year-old woman’s criminal past came to light early May when a newspaper reported that she once married and divorced a Hells Angels biker gangster in the late 1990s and had a live-in relationship with the gangster.

Her former husband also told The Globe and Mail newspaper that she had links to a long list of criminals, some of whom he said carried out illicit deeds while living with her. She was also linked to a mafia member.

What baffled security experts even more is that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) knew about Couillard’s criminal past. They wonder whether the federal police informed the prime minister about it when she became Bernier’s girlfriend and came to his swearing-in last August.

The woman at the centre of the scandal will be one of the first people to appear before the House of Commons panel which begins work Tuesday.

Indo-Canadian MP Ujjal Dosanjh, who has served as Canada’s health minister and is a member of the committee, says they would like Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the ousted minister to appear before them.

At the core of this issue, he said, is the judgement of the prime minister - why he appointed someone like Bernier to the sensitive position of foreign affairs minister.

The House panel will question the woman about what happened to the secret government documents while they were in her apartment for five weeks. Did anybody else see them?

The woman will also be questioned whether her boyfriend minister revealed other government secrets to her during their courtship and visits abroad.

The responsibility and procedures at the foreign affairs department will also be probed - why the staff didn’t try to get back the documents which were taken out of the office.

Meanwhile, a national security expert has said few other G8 nations are as lax on the security of classified documents as Canada.

“I think other G8 countries tend to be a little more security-conscious on these matters than Canada does,” Wesley Wark told a TV channel.

“From the beginning (of when the scandal broke) … I thought, ‘This is not the way things are meant to work’,” he said, referring to the woman’s background and the sensitivity of the minister’s position.

“The government should have been made aware of this, certainly whispered in Bernier’s (minister’s) ear that this was perhaps an inappropriate relationship.”

The loss of documents “should have never happened in a government seriously concerned about security”, he said.

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