N.B. justice minister resigns over privacy issue

New Brunswick's minister of justice has resigned amid allegations he violated the privacy rights of a Fredericton-area woman.

New Brunswick's minister of justice and consumer affairs resigned Thursday amid allegations that he violated the privacy rights of a Fredericton-area woman.

Bernard LeBlanc made the announcement in the legislature.

He said he decided to step down because an email sent in his name in November, when he was the minister of local government, revealed private information about a Fredericton-area woman.

It identified Nancy Allen as the individual who complained to the government about a kennel owner who was mistreating her dogs. The dogs were subsequently seized by the SPCA.

On Wednesday, Allen denied she was the one behind the complaint against her sister, Wendy Weeks, but said the minister's actions would deter people from reporting problems to authorities.

The Opposition had called for LeBlanc to resign over the email. Allen wasn't sure if she wanted him to quit.

LeBlanc told the legislature although he didn't know about the email until Wednesday, he had to take responsibility for it because it came from his office.

"As a minister, I am of the view that this breach falls within the principle of ministerial responsibility," he said.

"This is a question of accountability, responsibility and honour. For me this is a matter of principle. For that reason, I have submitted my resignation as a member of cabinet."

LeBlanc also apologized in the legislature to Allen and her family, and said he plans to call her.

LeBlanc 'strong member of our team': Graham

Premier Shawn Graham promptly issued a news release, naming Attorney General and Minister of Social Development Kelly Lamrock as the acting minister of justice and consumer affairs.

"Bernard LeBlanc is a strong member of our team and is clearly a very honourable man," Graham said.

"It is with great regret that I accept his resignation from cabinet, but he will continue to be a key member of our government."

LeBlanc, who is in his first term as the MLA for Memramcook-Lakeville-Dieppe, said he'll continue to serve as an MLA.

He supports the government's policies unconditionally, he said.

LeBlanc is the fourth minister to step down in the last seven months.

A statement issued Wednesday night by Bonny Hoyt-Hallett, deputy minister of local government, said LeBlanc did not approve or even know about the email sent to Wendy Weeks, the Charlotte County woman whose dogs were seized.

Name 'inadvertently' included in email

Departmental staff received several emails from Weeks in October and November 2009 inquiring about the dog seizure, the statement said.

One of the emails named an individual, alleging the person was the complainant. That name was then "inadvertently" included in a subsequent email back to Weeks, the statement said.

The statement didn't explicitly name Weeks or Allen and didn't confirm whether Allen was the complainant.

The SPCA seized more than 60 dogs from Weeks's Saltbox Kennel near St. Stephen in 2005. Weeks initially pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to provide adequate food, water, shelter and veterinary care for the dogs, but in April 2006, changed her plea to guilty. A provincial court judge barred her from owning any animals for two years.

Last week, Stuart Jamieson resigned as tourism minister.

Premier Shawn Graham asked him to tender his resignation for suggesting the controversial deal between NB Power and Hydro-Québec should go to a referendum.

Former justice minister Michael Murphy and former environment minister T.J. Burke have also left the Liberal cabinet.