Canada's Freeland says she has full confidence in PM Trudeau as leader

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s Foreign Minister Chyrstia Freeland said on Friday that though she was “troubled and disappointed” by images of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in blackface, she had full confidence in his leadership of the party.

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“We do happen to have an election and I have tremendous confidence in Justin Trudeau as the leader,” said Freeland, the most visible minister of Trudeau’s government and a key ally.

“The prime minister absolutely has my full and complete support,” she said in a telephone interview with Reuters from Toronto.

Freeland’s comments are proof that Trudeau’s team is squarely behind him as he forges ahead with his campaign with less than five weeks to go before the Oct. 21 vote.

Freeland said she reached out on Thursday to her constituents and government colleagues after the emergence the night before of damaging images of a 29-year-old Trudeau wearing dark make-up at a 2001 “Arabian Nights” party. Other Trudeau images from the early 1990s came to light on Thursday.

“I spent a lot of time yesterday speaking with some important members of my own riding, in particular some students who have been working on my campaign. It was important for me to talk to them,” she said.

In a statement issued late Thursday, Freeland said she believed Trudeau’s apology was “sincere and deeply felt. I believe in his commitment to do better.”

On Friday she pointed to the government’s commitment over the past four years “to fighting racism and to breaking down the systemic barriers in our country to people of color,” and said that Trudeau would help make more progress in the future.

Freeland was one of at least four cabinet members who attended a Trudeau campaign announcement in Toronto on Friday. She sat directly behind him and could be seen clapping and nodding her support on the television broadcast.

Due to the official campaign period, Freeland said she is unlikely to attend next week’s gathering of world leaders at the United Nation’s General Assembly in New York.

“At the moment, it is looking very unlikely that I will be at UNGA next week,” Freeland said. Traditionally, ministers do not travel outside the country during the official election campaign period.

Whether or not Freeland goes, several high level representatives will attend, including former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and former Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark, a foreign ministry official said.

Deputy Minister Marta Morgan will head the delegation, the official said, supported by Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations in New York, Marc-André Blanchard.

Trudeau, who has long run on his progressive credentials, introduced a gender-balanced cabinet when he took office in 2015 and appointed a number of minorities to top cabinet positions, including the defense, immigration and natural resources portfolios.

In the past, Freeland also offered unwavering support for Trudeau when a top watchdog said that he had breached ethics rules by pressuring his former justice minister to ensure a major construction firm avoid a corruption trial.

Reporting by Steve Scherer; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by David Gregorio and Daniel Wallis