Photo surfaces of Trudeau wearing ‘brownface’ opposing leaders respond

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Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau reacts as he makes a statement in regards to photo coming to light of himself from 2001 wearing "brownface" during a scrum on his campaign plane in Halifax, N.S., on Wednesday, September 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

A yearbook photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau his face and hands blackened by makeup at a 2001 costume party detonated Wednesday on the federal campaign trail, instantly tarnishing the Liberal leader’s bona fides as a champion of inclusivity and tolerance and stopping the party’s re-election momentum squarely in its tracks.

Time magazine has posted the photo, which it says was published in the yearbook from the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in Vancouver, B.C., where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics.

The photo depicts Trudeau, who was attending an “Arabian Nights”-themed gala event, wearing an elaborate turban and robe, his face, hands and neck blackened by makeup.

“It was a dumb thing to do,” the prime minister said during an emergency news conference on board the Liberal campaign plane before taking off for Winnipeg.

“I’m disappointed in myself, I’m pissed off at myself for having done it. I wish I hadn’t done it, but I did it, and I apologize for it.”

Asked whether it was the only such instance, Trudeau admitted that during a high school talent show, he wore makeup while performing a version of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song (Day-O),” although he didn’t explicitly say the makeup was dark.

He also said he’s been calling friends and colleagues to apologize personally for the photo, adding that he expects to be making more such calls on Thursday.

“It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist to do, and I’m deeply sorry,” he said.

“I have worked all my life to try and create opportunities for people, to fight against racism and intolerance, and I can just stand here and say that I made a mistake when I was younger, and I wish I hadn’t.”

The picture depicts the now-Liberal leader alongside four young women _ his hands draped over one of them _ in what appear to be cocktail dresses, none dressed as elaborately as Trudeau. The report describes the photo as having been the subject of gossip within the West Point Grey community.

Word of the photo ripped through the Liberal campaign bus like wildfire when the story broke, instantly changing what had been a convivial end-of-day mood. Staff members suddenly began talking frantically on their cellphones as reporters urgently called their newsrooms before snapping open their laptops.

So-called “blackface” images have been a frequent source of controversy in recent years, predominantly in the United States, where last year a number of prominent state politicians were forced to apologize for similar yearbook images that surfaced publicly.

But the image surely represents a crisis moment for Trudeau, whose political brand as Liberal leader and prime minister has been forged by themes of tolerance, inclusivity and racial harmony.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who was taking part in a town hall meeting when the news broke, said it’s becoming clear that Trudeau‘s public persona may not be an accurate reflection of who he is.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau makes a statement in regards to photo coming to light of himself from 2001 wearing “brownface” during a scrum on his campaign plane in Halifax, N.S., on Wednesday, September 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

“I think he needs to answer for it. I think he’s got to answer the question why he did that and what does that say about what he thinks about people who, because of who they are, because of the colour of their skin, face challenges and barriers and obstacles in their life,” Singh said.

“Who is the real Mr. Trudeau? Is it the one behind closed doors, the one when the cameras are turned off that no one sees?” Singh asked. “Is that the real Mr. Trudeau? Because more and more, it seems like it is.”

The National Council of Canadian Muslims wasted little time calling on Trudeau to explain the “deeply saddening” photo.

“The wearing of blackface/brownface is reprehensible, and hearkens back to a history of racism, slavery, and an Orientalist mythology that is unacceptable,” said executive director Mustafa Farooq, who later issued a statement thanking the prime minister for apologizing so quickly.

Before he did, Green Leader Elizabeth May described herself as “deeply shocked” by the “racism” on display in the photo.

“He must apologize for the harm done and commit to learning and appreciating the requirement to model social justice leadership at all levels of government,” May tweeted.

 

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Conservative leader Andrew Scheer says a yearbook photo showing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in brownface makeup at a costume party in 2001 shows he is not fit to govern Canada.

Scheer says what Canadians are seeing is a man who lacks judgment and integrity. He says wearing brownface was racist in 2001 and it is racist in 2019.

Scheer made the brief statement Wednesday night and did not take questions.

Scheer is the leader of the main opposition party that is looking to unseat Trudeau in the upcoming election.

The photo of the then 29-year-old Trudeau shows him wearing a turban and robe, with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck.

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9:55 p.m.

The first visible minority to lead a national party in Canada says a photo showing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in brownface makeup at a costume party in 2001 is insulting.

Leftist New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh is the head of a party that holds the third most seats in Parliament. He is a Sikh who wears a turban.

The photo of the then 29-year-old Trudeau shows him wearing a turban and robe, with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck.

Singh said Wednesday Trudeau‘s actions made a mockery of people.

He said some people would now be reliving the pain of past racist experiences, such as being mocked for their skin colour or having their turban ripped off their head.

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8:20 p.m.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he made a mistake when he wore brownface makeup at a party in 2001, and should have known better.

Trudeau made the comments shortly after Time magazine published the photo. Time says the photo came from the yearbook from the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in British Columbia where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics.

The photo depicts Trudeau wearing a turban and robe, with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck.

Trudeau told reporters travelling with him on his campaign plane Wednesday: “I’m pissed off at myself; I’m disappointed in myself.”

He said it was a racist act, though he didn’t realize it at the time. Trudeau he says he knows better now.

The prime minister said he made a mistake and asked Canadians to forgive him.

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8:04 p.m.

Canadian leader Justin Trudeau‘s campaign for national elections has been hit by the publication of a yearbook photo showing him in brownface makeup at a costume party in 2001.

Time magazine posted the photo, which it says was published in the yearbook from the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in British Columbia where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics. The photo depicts Trudeau wearing a turban and robe, with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck.

Liberal Party spokesman Cameron Ahmad confirms the photo is of Trudeau. He says it was taken at the school’s annual dinner which had an “Arabian Nights” theme that year. Trudeau was dressed as a character from “Aladdin.”

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