OTTAWA - Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day says there's no need to run security checks on the spouses or partners of federal cabinet ministers, despite the political storm over Maxime Bernier's ex-girlfriend.
Day rejected claims that the foreign minister's relationship with Montrealer Julie Couillard raised issues of national security.
"I don't agree with that at all," said Day, accusing opposition politicians of taking cheap shots at his cabinet colleague.
He noted that the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service already run "very solid" background checks on MPs, and especially on those appointed to cabinet.
"To go into the private lives of the spouses, the partners of all members of Parliament . . . I think that's a little bit excessive," said Day.
"If you stared to spread that to spouses, to partners, and then of course you'd have to include children, I mean, this thing would get out of hand."
Day, who is responsible for the Mounties and CSIS, adamantly stuck to the Conservative government's oft-repeated position that Bernier's ties to Couillard were a purely personal and private matter.
But a number of independent security analysts have sided with opposition critics who say the matter raises legitimate questions of public policy.
They point to the fact that Couillard, who has had past ties to two members of Montreal-based biker gangs, accompanied Bernier to official functions and on ministerial trips abroad during their year-long relationship.
"If you want to be on the safe side, it should generate a probe," Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a private consultant who put in time with both the RCMP and CSIS, said last week.
"If you don't want to be on the safe side, and try to kill this as soon as possible because it embarrasses you in the press, you're unlikely to call for a probe."
Former RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli warned years ago that organized crime might try to infiltrate Parliament and other national institutions.
In a carefully worded statement issued last Friday, the force indicated it's still concerned.
"Organized crime can reach into every area of our lives, with vast resources at its disposal and its ability to penetrate legitimate society and economic structures," said Chief Supt. Mike Cabana.
Couillard has never been convicted of any offence, but was linked romantically with Gilles Gregoire, a former associate of Hells Angels boss Maurice (Moms) Boucher. Giguere was later murdered, and there have been allegations that the Angels considered a hit on Couillard as well, a claim she has dismissed.
Couillard was also once married to Stephane Sirois, a member of the Rockers bike gang. Government officials say her relationship with Bernier ended recently.
The foreign minister faced new controversy on the weekend, as a Montreal daily reported the RCMP had visited him to ask about a photo of Bernie shaking hands with Michael Chamas, a businessman arrested with 27 others as part of an operation targeting organized crime on aboriginal reserves in Quebec and eastern Ontario
Chamas is before the courts charged with 10 counts of possession of illegal weapons.
Neil Hrab, a spokesman for Bernier, said the minister doesn't know Chamas and the photo, apparently taken at a Conservative party fundraiser, marked the only time they ever met.
Hrab also said there's a similar picture of Chamas posing with former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien.