Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly says it was “unacceptable” that a Canadian representative attended an event hosted at the Russian Embassy, and has vowed it won’t happen again.
As The Globe and Mail first reported, deputy chief of protocol officer Yasemin Heinbecker from Global Affairs Canada (GAC) attended a Russia Day celebration at the embassy in Ottawa on Friday.
The Canadian government has repeatedly condemned Russia for its ongoing invasion of Ukraine – imposing sanctions, sending military equipment to Ukraine, and supporting international efforts to investigate war crimes, in response.
“This is unacceptable. No Canadian representative should have attended the event hosted at the Russian embassy & no Canadian representative will attend this kind of event again. [Canada] continues to stand with [Ukraine] as it fights against Russia’s egregious invasion,” Joly’s tweet reads.
A statement from GAC to CTV News says the decision to send the representative was made by the department and adds that Russian officials will not be invited to Canada Day events.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress called the move “deeply offensive.”
“[It is] an insult to the memory of the brave Ukrainian people, soldiers and civilians, who have been barbarically slaughtered by Russia’s armed forces in an unprovoked invasion of their country,” CEO and Executive Director Ihor Michalchyshyn said.
“The Russian government is committing genocide against the Ukrainian people. One does not break bread with war criminals.”
Ottawa has faced pressure to expel Russia’s ambassador Oleg Stepanov in the wake of the country’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine. Several European countries have begun the process of removing diplomats.
Michalchyshyn doubled down on that call in his Monday statement, as well as a demand to list Russia as a state supporter of terrorism.
“These calls have gone unheeded and unanswered. The failure of [the] government to adequately respond to the threat Russia and its representatives in Canada pose has deleterious effects on the security of all Canadians. We call on the Government of Canada to take these steps immediately,” he said.
Meanwhile, interim Conservative Party Leader Candice Bergen condemned the actions of the GAC official.
“Instead of endorsing the lavish, Kremlin-backed celebration at the Russian embassy, the Liberal government should be working with countries like Egypt, Pakistan and those in Africa to prevent Putin’s illegal war from causing a global food crisis which will hurt developing countries the most,” a statement to CTVNews.ca reads.
NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson rose in the House of Commons on Monday to underscore her party’s concerns with the developments.
“The foreign affairs minister blamed Global Affairs staff for attending a party at the Russian Embassy. She won’t even admit whether she knew or not if they were going,” she said. “Why didn’t the minister tell her staff not to attend events at the Russian Embassy?”
Joly responded, stating she is “as mad” as her colleagues across the aisle.
“Of course, I’m the minister and the buck stops here but what I can tell you is we’ve been showing leadership on the question of Ukraine. Our intent has been the same since before February 24, we need to make sure we send a strong message to Vladimir Putin’s regime. We need to suffocate diplomatically, economically, and politically,” she said.
With files from CTV News’ Kevin Gallagher