Trudeau says Canadian attendance at Russian embassy event ‘absolutely unacceptable’

OTTAWA — It was "absolutely unacceptable" that any Canadian representative attended a party at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.

"It never should have happened, and we denounce it thoroughly," Trudeau said during question period in the House of Commons when pressed by interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen.

The Globe and Mail reported on Sunday that Yasemin Heinbecker, the deputy chief of protocol at Global Affairs Canada, had attended a party at the embassy last Friday to celebrate Russia Day.

Russia Day, which is celebrated on June 12 every year, is the national holiday of the Russian Federation. It marks the adoption of a 1990 declaration that sparked constitutional reforms and ultimately, the end of the Soviet era.

Bergen asked the prime minister Tuesday why a government that supports Ukraine would send a representative "to their enemy's house to enjoy champagne and caviar."

Bergen said she hoped Trudeau apologized to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Trudeau said he spoke by telephone with Zelenskyy for 45 minutes on Tuesday about Canada's support for the embattled country that Russia invaded in February.

"President Zelenskyy and I had an extremely positive conversation where this issue did not come up, because obviously there are much more important issues," he said.

On Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly told the House of Commons that she is angry about the party, and her department has apologized.

She told reporters on Tuesday that she didn't know Heinbecker was attending the party in advance and that she did not seek an explanation from her office about why it was approved, because "I would never have approved it, so there's no explanation."

Joly said she had a "tough conversation" with her staff and deputy minister Monday, and that she has also spoken with her Ukrainian counterpart.

In a tweet posted Saturday, the Russian Embassy in Canada said the event was attended by Russian and Canadian media, "representatives of Canadian society" and Global Affairs Canada.

It also said Oleg Stepanov, Russia's ambassador to Canada, gave a speech noting that June 12 also marks the 80th anniversary of Russian-Canadian diplomatic relations.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2022.

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press