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Politics Trudeau apologizes for joking about Russian intervention in Ukraine

Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau addresses delegates at the party's Biennial convention Saturday, February 22, 2014 in Montreal.

Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau apologized for joking Moscow might vent its Olympic hockey frustration at crisis-hit Ukraine, saying he regrets making light of "some very real fears" Ukrainians might have about the prospect of Russian intervention there.

Mr. Trudeau said he didn't issue a mea culpa Monday, when the controversy emerged after his remarks aired on a Sunday evening French-language talk-show, because he wanted to first reach out personally to Ukrainian-Canadian community leaders.

The Quebec MP told reporters Tuesday afternoon he wanted to express "how seriously the Liberal Party takes the situation in Ukraine and to say that I regret my comments about Russia." Paul Grod, the head of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said Mr. Trudeau called him Tuesday morning to address the comments heard on Radio-Canada's Tout le monde en parle.

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"He expressed his regret, that it was a poor choice of words, that he apologizes for his mistake, and that he wants to ensure we understand his Liberal Party is fully in support of the people of Ukraine," Mr. Grod said.

A day before Mr. Trudeau said he was sorry, Liberal MP Marc Garneau defended his leader and said he had no need to apologize.

At Thursday's taping of Tout le monde en parle, a panelist asked Mr. Trudeau about Canada's response to the events in Ukraine. The Liberal Leader said Ottawa should do more and that his party has for several weeks pressed the Conservatives to take further action, including targeted sanctions against the now-ousted president. He added the situation is "even more worrying now that Russia lost in hockey and will be in a bad mood. We fear some involvement of the Russian government in Ukraine."

The Conservatives have since seized on the remark as evidence Mr. Trudeau is "in over his head" and pointed on Monday to what Immigration Minister Chris Alexander called a "pattern" of "flippant" comments. On Tuesday, Employment and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney reiterated that view, and Ukrainian and Russian diplomats weighed into the fray, too.

"I believe every politician from time to time can make some mistake," said Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine's ambassador to Canada, who met with Mr. Trudeau at the embassy Tuesday. "With everything he said, I was very pleased."

The tumult in Ukraine began last fall, after now-former president Viktor Yanukovych shunned deeper association with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia.

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