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Trudeau calls Putin a 'monster' following reports of Alexei Navalny's death

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Reports of Alexei Navalny's death in a Russian prison are tragic and horrifying, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday, offering his condolences to the opposition leader's family and all who champion his pursuit of justice.

Trudeau described Navalny as someone who was "standing up with extraordinary courage for a better future for Russia and Russians."

He added: "We know how much that scares and continues to scare (Russian President) Vladimir Putin."

Speaking to a crowd at the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, Trudeau said there is no question Navalny knew this outcome "was always going to be a possibility."

Trudeau said in an earlier post on social media that Navalny, who crusaded against corruption in Russia, should never have been imprisoned to begin with.

"Let this be an important reminder that we must continue to promote, protect, and defend democracy everywhere," he said. "The consequences of not doing so are stark."

Trudeau is among international leaders and others opposed to Putin's rule who are voicing their admiration and support for Navalny's work and offering sympathies following the news.

Russia's prison agency said Nalvalny, who was serving a 19-year sentence in an Arctic penal colony, died Friday.

The Federal Penitentiary Service said the 47-year-old Navalny felt unwell after a walk and lost consciousness, and could not be revived by paramedics.

Navalny's associates stressed they didn't have independent confirmation of his death in the reports that came from Russia's penitentiary officials. His close ally Ivan Zhdanov said authorities "must notify the relatives" within 24 hours "if true."

In comments broadcast on CBC Manitoba's Information Radio show Friday, Trudeau said he was "reeling" over the reports.

"It really shows the extent to which Putin has -- will -- crack down on anyone who is fighting for freedom for the Russian people," he said.

"It is a tragedy and it's something that has the entire world being reminded of exactly what a monster Putin is."

Trudeau told host Marcy Markusa there are questions about what happened to Navalny and "our trust for the Russian authorities to be truthful about that will of course be not exactly strong."

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre blamed Putin for the death in a social media post. "Putin imprisoned Navalny for the act of opposing the regime. Conservatives condemn Putin for his death."

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said in a post on social media that Navalny's reported death is a "painful reminder" of Putin's "continued oppressive regime."

She said he "gave his freedom in the hopes of a better, more democratic future for the Russian people."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Navalny's work "exposed corruption by Putin's oligarchs."

Just hours after his death was reported, Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, took the stage at a security conference in Germany that Joly and Defence Minister Bill Blair are attending this week.

Navalnaya said she considered cancelling her appearance.

"But then I thought what Alexei would do in my place. And I'm sure he would be here," she said, noting that she was not even sure if she could believe the news coming from official Russian sources.

"But if this is true, I want Putin and everyone around Putin, Putin's friends, his government to know that they will bear responsibility for what they did to our country, to my family and to my husband. And this day will come very soon."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, waging a fight against Russia's full-scale invasion of his country, had a blunt assessment of the reports about Navalny.

"It is obvious that he was killed by Putin," said Zelenskyy, visiting Germany for the security conference as he sought aid for his country in its armed resistance.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia has questions to answer.

"What we have seen is that Russia has become a more and more authoritarian power, that they have used repression against the opposition for many years," Stoltenberg said.

Navalny, he said, "was in jail, a prisoner, and that makes it extremely important that Russia now answer all the questions that it will be asked about the cause of death."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2024, with files from The Associated Press

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