Julie Couillard was born in 1969 in Montreal. She lives in Laval, Quebec.
The last time I was seen in a more-or-less public setting with Maxime Bernier was April 18, 2008. It was at a cocktail fundraiser held in the offices of the company Pomerleau in Old Montreal. Besides Maxime and me, there were ten people there, and each had paid one thousand dollars for the privilege of meeting the minister. They included Philippe Morin and René Bellerive of Kevlar, along with Eric Boyko.
After the cocktail party, Maxime and I went to have dinner at Ferreira Café — where he spoke about Quebec independence — and then we went back to my place to spend the night.
The next morning was a Friday, and the House was not sitting. Maxime had slept in a bit, and he was getting ready to go to Westmount to pick up his daughters and take them, if I recall correctly, to a birthday party at his brother’s place on the South Shore. By the time he was ready to leave, it must have been about ten o’clock.
Just before leaving — he often did this — Maxime opened his attaché case and pulled out a bunch of documents and other papers. I was sitting in the living room, not really paying attention to what he was doing. He dumped the stack of papers on the kitchen counter and asked, “Could you put all this in the garbage for me?”
“Okay,” I said.
Then he took two steps toward me and added, “But you know, I’d rather you waited until garbage day to do it. After all, they are confidential documents . . .”
That blend of vanity and flippancy was just like the Maxime I knew. It was as if he had said to me, “Look at me, I’m a minister of the Crown. I’m somebody incredibly important walking around with ultra-confidential documents in his briefcase, but I’m above all that. You see what I’m doing with them?” It wasn’t the first time he’d left documents at my house like that, for me to dispose of them. It had happened maybe two or three times before.
I must explain that Maxime Bernier was not exactly a whiz when it came to information technology. He had his BlackBerry, of course, which he could use to make phone calls and to send and receive email. But he didn’t own a laptop, which meant he carried a lot of printed documents around in his attaché case, which inevitably would wind up being too full. My house had become a second office for him. When he was at my place, he would ask me to do his secretarial work from my computer. People in his office, the Department of Foreign Affairs, regularly communicated with him using my personal email address. Countless documents he carried around in his attaché case had been printed out on my own printer, forty and fifty pages at a time. He had briefings, analyses, and speeches sent directly to my computer, which was no more secure than that of any ordinary citizen. He received them all as if they were grocery lists. Looking back on it now, I can’t help but smile when I think that, in the eyes of some observers, I supposedly constituted a threat to national security and state secrets! I could have wallpapered my house in confidential documents. Mind you, it would have lacked a certain aesthetic appeal . . .
Consequently, on April 19, 2008, when Maxime Bernier left those documents in my house and asked me to throw them in the garbage, I didn’t pay any more attention to his request than usual. When someone tells you, “Put this in the garbage,” the message is fairly clear: it can’t be all that important.
As almost anyone who lives alone can attest, a kitchen counter is often a makeshift filing station, where all kinds of papers pile up: newspapers, bills, flyers, and who knows what. For two weeks following that morning, I never gave another thought to those documents sitting on my counter. When Maxime left them there, it was a Friday morning, and the next garbage pickup wasn’t until the following Friday. In the meantime, other papers piled up on top of them, and I forgot all about them. But I was soon to be reminded of their existence in quite brutal fashion.