An official in small-town Ontario is being accused of covering up a murder, but she says she was protecting the town from bad publicity.

Francesca Dobbyn told Wiarton town council on Monday that she knew Wiarton Willie might have killed his two understudies, but hid the facts so the town's summer tourist season wouldn't be hurt.

Wiarton Willie is an albino groundhog that is brought out every Groundhog Day to predict the coming end of winter. He is also the town's mascot and main tourist attraction.

The Wiarton Willie Festival held every February generates about $750,000 for the town. That makes Willie a powerful rodent.

So last May, when two Willies-in-training stopped coming out of the burrow specially built to house the three, Dobbyn, who looks after the animals, kept quiet.

The missing pair were found last week, deep inside the burrow.

Groundhogs are naturally territorial, and some believe Willie eliminated his rivals.

On Monday, town council wanted an explanation. Mayor Carl Noble, however, rejected calls for Dobbyn's resignation.