Canada’s Prime Minister and one-time Rolling Stone coverfeature Justin Trudeau has positioned himself as the free world’s anti-Trump — a leader who doesn’t seek to build walls to keep out refugees, but has embraced the resettlement of 25,000 Syrians in Canada.
His woke brand of politics celebrates diversity. So it comes as a shock that the 47-year-old liberal politician is now apologizing for appearing in racist brownface makeup at an “Arabian Nights” themed party in 2001, when he was a teacher at a private school in Vancouver.
The photo, which was memorialized in a yearbook, resurfaced Wednesday in a report by Time magazine. It shows a smiling Trudeau wearing a turban and dark makeup over his hands and face.
Exclusive: TIME has obtained a photograph of the Canadian prime minister wearing brownface makeup to a party at the private school where he was teaching in the spring of 2001 https://t.co/kSTAGinF6R pic.twitter.com/gi4Nwx4tXh
— TIME (@TIME) September 18, 2019
Speaking to reporters from an airplane Wednesday night Trudeau attempted to explain the photograph and apologized. “I dressed up in an Aladdin costume, and put makeup on,” he said. “I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better. But I didn’t. And I’m really sorry.” Trudeau said he is accountable for his behavior as a 29-year-old. “It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time,” he said. “But now I recognize that it was something racist to do.”
Asked if this were the only time he’d ever done something similar, Trudeau conceded it was not. “When I was in high school, I dressed up at a talent show and sang ‘Day O’,” he said, referencing the Harry Belafonte “Banana Boat” ditty. “With makeup on,” Trudeau clarified. “The fact of the matter that I’ve always been more enthusiastic about costumes than is somehow… than is sometimes appropriate.”
As the story snowballed Wednesday night, Robert Fife, Ottawa Bureau Chief of Canada’s Globe and Mail, tweeted out a photo of what he describes as Trudeau in blackface in high school.
— Robert Fife (@RobertFife) September 19, 2019
(UPDATE: The Global News has published a grainy video from the “early 1990s” in which it reports Trudeau can be seen wearing blackface and “raising his hands in the air while laughing, sticking his tongue out and making faces.” Trudeau’s campaign admitted that the video is authentic, the paper reports.)
These troubling revelations come as Trudeau has just kicked off his reelection campaign. Facing reporters, Trudeau deflected questions about whether he’s considered resigning — as many called on Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to step down after a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page surfaced in February.
Trudeau said that politicians need to be judged on a “case by case basis” when assessing past behavior. “If everyone who is running for office needs to demonstrate that they’ve been perfect every step of their lives,” he said, “there’s going to be a shortage of people running for office.”
Even as he promised to redouble his efforts to combat racism and discrimination, Trudeau added that he is “deeply disappointed” in himself. “I am going to be asking Canadians to forgive me for what I did.”
Canadians will have a chance to render their verdict soon. The general election is scheduled for October 21st. And Trudeau’s top rival wasted no time in taking political advantage of the scandal. Andrew Sheer, Canada’s conservative opposition leader, released a video declaring he was “shocked” at the “open mockery and racism” of Trudeau wearing brownface, adding “it was just as racist in 2001 as it is in 2019.” Sheer said Trudeau’s lack of judgment and integrity make him unfit to govern Canada.
Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party — which is to to the left of Trudeau’s Liberal Party — said Trudeau needs to “answer for” his behavior. But Singh sought to take the focus off of the prime minister’s political future, and instead tweeted a message of support to the Canadians of color whose lived experiences of racism and discrimination were belittled by Trudeau’s photo.
Tonight is not about the Prime Minister.
It's about every young person mocked for the colour of their skin.
The child who had their turban ripped off their head.
And those reliving intense feelings of pain & hurt from past experiences of racism.
To you, I say you are loved.
— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) September 19, 2019