RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR APOLOGIZES TO CANADIANS

The Russian ambassador apologized to Canadians on Tuesday for a diplomat from his embassy who allegedly hit and killed a Canadian woman while driving under the influence of alcohol. Vitaly Churkin was speaking at a press conference in Ottawa a day after Andrei Knyazev, 45, a middle-ranking diplomat at the embassy, flew back to Moscow to avoid being tried under Canadian law. Mr. Knyazev sought diplomatic immunity after being charged on five counts, including criminal negligence and impaired driving. He was arrested at the scene where his car allegedly jumped a curb and killed lawyer Catherine MacLean, 50, while she was walking her dog in an affluent Ottawa neighborhood. Another woman was injured in the accident and was recovering in hospital when Mr. Knyazev flew back to Moscow after being released to the embassy. Ottawa had asked that his diplomatic immunity be lifted so he could be tried in Canada, but, as Pravda.ru has already reported, Moscow refused and instead recalled him to stand trial under Russian law. According to the UPI news agency, Ms. MacLean's friends and relatives held a candle-light vigil on Monday night and expressed shock on learning that Mr. Knyazev had left the country. Reportedly, the Russian embassy was later flooded with phone calls and e-mail messages expressing outrage. Mr. Churkin told reporters Knyazev would be tried under Russian law, and expressed sympathies to Ms. MacLean's family. He said the Russian laws under which Mr. Knyazev would be tried were quite severe, and he could face up to five years in prison. Canada and Russia were signatories to a 1997 treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, "so we do have our official channels through which we can communicate efficiently in order for this matter to be treated expeditiously and in accordance with the law, to the satisfaction of the Canadian flag," he said. "Our Russian legal system is quite tough traditionally on offences associated with driving...accidents," and he himself was not sure under which system he would have preferred to be tried, as conditions in Russian prisons were tougher than those in Canada. Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley said he would have preferred Moscow to have lifted Mr. Knyazev's diplomatic immunity so that he could be tried in Canada. Mr. Knyazev reportedly avoided the media on his return to Moscow, and his whereabouts were not immediately known, but his family remained in Canada.