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Updated: Tue, 25 Feb 2014 22:18:02 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Justin Trudeau apologizes for Ukraine joke



Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, seen during question period in the House of Commons Tuesday, later offered an apology for his remark about Ukraine and Russia on Radio-Canada's program Tout le monde en parle this past weekend. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, seen during question period in the House of Commons Tuesday, later offered an apology for his remark about Ukraine and Russia on Radio-Canada's program Tout le monde en parle this past weekend. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

Justin Trudeau has apologized for a joke he made about the situation in Ukraine on a popular Quebec television show.

Trudeau visited the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa Tuesday morning and told the ambassador he was sorry for the remark he made on Radio-Canada's Tout le monde en parle.

Trudeau later told reporters in the House of Commons foyer that he believes Canadians are open to listening to politicians who are not what he called "tightly scripted."

He said his own experience, as he has travelled across the country, is that people respond to politicians who "are willing to talk like people talk, and from time to time take risks, and from time to time have to apologize and withdraw their comments."

Trudeau said he's aware the Conservatives intend to make his judgment an issue in the next election. "I'm actually quite pleased that I will be up against someone who has the judgment to decide that Pat Brazeau, Pam Wallin and Mike Duffy were suitable members of our Senate," he said.

Ukrainian Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko told reporters waiting outside the building that Trudeau also signed a book of condolences, the first Canadian federal politician to do so, he noted.

"So far I haven't seen nobody from the Canadian government to come here to do the same," Prystaiko said.  But, he added, it wasn't important that government officials had not visited, but that Canada recognized Ukraine's new government as a legitimate government.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a delegation of Ukrainian-Canadians and some MPs, as well as Foreign Minister John Baird, that will visit Ukraine with the aim of finding ways to support the transitional government.

Harper met with members of the Canadian-Ukrainian community later Tuesday afternoon.

Prystaiko said he and Trudeau had talked about "what can be done right now in Ukraine, how Canada can assist Ukraine to become a state." He continued, "With everything he [Trudeau] said I was very pleased. I have to tell you that he is saying what we would expect from Canadian politicians."

In the book of condolences at the Ukrainian Embassy, Trudeau wrote, "The people of Canada stand strong in support of our friends in Ukraine."

In French, he added he wants to engage in participating fully in the birth of a prosperous future for Ukrainians.

Trudeau was accompanied by his foreign affairs critic, Marc Garneau, who also signed the book, but neither spoke to reporters. The Latvian ambassador to Canada also signed.

Trudeau had tweeted earlier Tuesday, "I just spoke with @PaulMGrod of UCC. Told him I'm sorry to have spoken lightly of the very real threat Russia poses to Ukraine." Grod is president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

Barrage of criticism over joke

Trudeau has come under a barrage of criticism since he said Ukraine should be concerned about Russia's response to the popular uprising in Kyiv, partially because the Olympics host country would be angry it had just lost a hockey game. Russia had been eliminated from Olympic medal contention in men's hockey with a loss to Finland.

The reaction to Trudeau's remark, which sounded flippant, has become intensely political.

Baird, who is in Australia, issued talking points from his office Tuesday. Two of them addressed the situation in Ukraine; the other four were about Trudeau.

The final two points in the release said, "Trudeau apparently thinks the situation in Ukraine is something to joke about. We don't," and, "Once again, Justin Trudeau reminds us that he does not have the judgment to be prime minister. He is in way over his head."

Trudeau may have to further explain his comment about the threat Russia poses to Ukraine, at least to the Russians.

On Tuesday morning in Ottawa, Russia's ambassador to Canada, Georgily Mamedov, warned at a news conference that people shouldn't indulge in rumours about possible Russian intervention in Ukraine. He also said that there would be no Russian troops in Ukraine.

As he began to answer reporters' questions, Mamedov said, "I'm turning serious, because I know you don't appreciate jokes."

On Monday, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair had been harshly critical of Trudeau, saying, "You don't make jokes about people lying dead on the streets of their capital." 

But In a scrum Tuesday, Mulcair told reporters, "Even if it took him a couple of days to realize it was a mistake at least he's apologized. And he realized it did show a lack of judgment."

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