May 27, Sydney Morning Herald

Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier has resigned after it emerged he had left classified documents in the apartment of a former girlfriend with suspected ties to organised crime.

"Minister Bernier has learned and informed me that he left classified government documents in a non-secure location. This is a serious error. (He) has accepted his responsibilities in offering to resign," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Mr Bernier, 45, had been under increasing pressure to quit amid revelations about the personal life of Julie Couillard, the former girlfriend who has been linked to the Hells Angels.

An authoritative political source said on condition of anonymity that Mr Bernier had left the the documents in Ms Couillard's apartment. An interview with her was set to be shown at 9pm on Monday (11am Tuesday, Sydney time) on Canadian television.

Mr Bernier, who took over the job last August, had also been under fire for a series of recent gaffes.

Most notably, he embarrassed Ottawa in April by openly suggesting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai replace the governor of Kandahar province. Canada has 2500 troops based in the southern Afghan city.

Mr Bernier was the first minister to quit the cabinet under a cloud since the Conservatives won power in January 2006. Mr Harper said Trade Minister David Emerson would take over as foreign minister on a temporary basis.

A grim-faced Mr Harper, speaking just hours before departing on an official visit to Europe, insisted Mr Bernier's resignation had nothing to do with the media furore over his relationship with Ms Couillard.

"This is about one thing and that is a failure to uphold expected standards on government documents. It is a very serious mistake, regardless of who the minister is, regardless personal life," he said.

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photo: Maxime Bernier arrives to be sworn in as Canada's new Foreign Minister in August 2007, accompanied by Julie Couillard (AP)