November 15, 2019

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A contrite, yet evasive, Trudeau faces up to his past

On the second day of a scandal that threatens his grip on power, Justin Trudeau was contrite about wearing blackface or brownface at least three times in the past and evasive about whether there were more instances.

Standing on a patch of lawn in Old Market Square on an unseasonably warm late summer day, surrounded by hundreds of curious onlookers, the Liberal leader and prime minister spoke for only a couple of minutes before taking questions from reporters for the next half hour.

Whatever plans he may have had for a campaign style policy announcement in the Manitoba capital were abandoned as he continued to face an issue, barely a day old, that has tilted his re-election bid sideways.

Some members of the crowd squeezed into the phalanx of reporters and TV camera operators with their smartphones to record the spectacle. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Some members of the crowd squeezed into the phalanx of reporters and TV camera operators with their smartphones to record the spectacle. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Trudeau was neither booed nor heckled by the 300 to 400 Winnipeggers who gathered around to hear what he had to say. Occasionally, there was polite applause when he apologized — repeatedly — for his missteps.

See the images

Several images of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau have emerged over the past 48 hours. See the photos and read what we know about when they were taken.

Several images of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau have emerged over the past 48 hours.  Here's a review:

In April 2001, Trudeau attended an "Arabian Nights" costume party held by the West Point Grey Academy, where he worked as a teacher. He is dressed as Aladdin. 

A yearbook photo of him (second from right) with four women was published Wednesday by Time magazine (above).

On Thursday, a second image from the same party emerged. It had been published in a West Point Grey Academy newsletter.

(West Point Grey Academy / The Canadian Press)

Early Thursday morning, Global News published a short video that appears to show Trudeau in blackface in the 1990s.  The circumstances around the video are not clear.

Justin Trudeau admitted Wednesday that he had worn makeup while taking part in a talent show in high school at Le collège Jean-de-Brébeuf singing Day O (The Banana Boat Song). The photo, which appears to be from a yearbook, emerged Thursday afternoon. (The Canadian Press / Handout)

While police and security officials — some stationed on nearby rooftops — looked on, there were times when the only thing that could be heard, apart from the PM's voice, were the clicking sounds of photographers' cameras.

Only twice was Trudeau interrupted — once by someone who urged him to speak up, and once by the siren and bullhorn of an emergency vehicle.

Some members of the crowd squeezed into the phalanx of reporters and TV camera operators with their smartphones to record the spectacle.

Trudeau, accompanied by eight solemn-faced Manitoba Liberal candidates, appeared relaxed and never lost his cool — even when asked if he thought he should step down as leader in mid-campaign.

But he demonstrated the tension he must have felt in other ways. Uncharacteristically, for any campaigning politician, let alone a very successful one, he barely acknowledged where he was — mentioning Winnipeg just once during a 35-minute news conference, and then only in passing.

On Thursday, reporters asked Trudeau repeatedly whether there were more occasions in which he wore skin-darkening makeup in the past, other than the three that have been identified to date. But he was evasive.

Reaction to the photos

Images of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in blackface produced widespread reaction to the images themselves, and on the issue of race and racism in Canada. Here is some of what was said by politicians, federal party leaders and candidates.

Images of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in blackface produced widespread reaction to the images themselves, and on the issue of race and racism in Canada. Here is some of what was said by politicians, federal party leaders and candidates.

 

"I believe that Canadians might have been able to accept his apology if he had been truthful and open, if he hadn't based that apology on a lie, but he was specifically asked if there were other incidences where he engaged in this type of racist behaviour and he indicated that there was only one other incident and now we know that there was at least three."

—Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer

 

"When you've got a prime minister that is mocking the lived realities of Canadians, it can inflame those tensions and give more oxygen to those who believe in discriminating (against) people based on the way they look. That's why it's deeply concerning. The impacts that this has on Canada and on the lives of Canadians can't be underestimated. This is massive. And that's why it's so important for us to think about what people are going through right now and how they might be hurting."

—NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

 

"I don't know what to say. I'm sick about it. And I think about the impact for every child in this country, Indigenous or people of colour, and how it impacts them personally. It does harm. It's racist."

—Green Leader Elizabeth May

 

"I can understand that some people were hurt with these pictures. But Mr. Trudeau said that he was sorry, so we have to talk about something else."

—Quebec Premier Francois Legault

 

"I told him, 'Prime Minister, people are going to hurt, but I think the black community will be forgiving.' The reason why they are going to be forgiving is because they have seen what he has done and they have appreciated what he has done."

—Greg Fergus, Liberal candidate, chair of Parliament's black caucus

 

"There is no place in our country to take pictures or act in that way. As Indigenous people, as an Indigenous person myself who has faced racism and discrimination, it's entirely unacceptable."

—Jody Wilson-Raybould, Independent candidate and former Liberal cabinet minister

 

"I'll just make three brief comments of principles that I think we need to keep in mind in response to this. One is that when we see acts of racism, we should call them out as well as understanding their systemic roots and that there's something deeper going on. The second is that I think we should expect the highest levels of integrity from our leaders and that means that nothing should be hidden from us, certainly not for a long period of time. And the third is that I think we need to hold our representatives to account. And in the case of party leaders, I think other representatives of that party should hold their leader to account."

—Jane Philpott, Independent candidate and former Liberal cabinet minister

 

"This is not about whether or not the prime minister is racist, it’s about the system in which we live in that is inherently racist and makes people think it is OK to mock racialized people’s lived experiences and appearances. People should be looking at this and talking about this; not just in respect to the prime minister, but critically looking at the racism, oppression and hate that us brown, black, and Indigenous people experience in our day-to-day lives."

—Samya Hasan, executive director, Council of Agencies Serving South Asians

 

"I was very disheartened and disappointed to see these images. These indefensible images bring back many painful memories of racism that I and other racialized Canadians have experienced throughout our lives. The prime minister has sincerely apologized and expressed his regret. The Justin Trudeau that I have come to know over the last four years is a champion of diversity and inclusion, and a strong ally of racialized communities."

—Amarjeet Sohi, Edmonton Liberal candidate and cabinet minister

On Wednesday, an 18-year-old photo surfaced of Trudeau dressed as Aladdin, his face and hands darkened by makeup during a theme party at a Vancouver private school, where he once taught. The Liberal leader also acknowledged that he had worn makeup during a high school talent show while performing a version of Harry Belafonte's Banana Boat Song (Day-O).

Then, a video of Trudeau in blackface, initially reported by Global News, came to light hours after the prime minister had apologized for his earlier acknowledged transgressions.

"I am wary of being definitive about this because the recent pictures that came out — I had not remembered," he explained at one point.

Anticipating a follow-up question as to how he could have forgotten such episodes, he said: "The fact is I didn't understand how hurtful this is to people who live with discrimination every single day. I've always acknowledged that I come from a place of privilege but I now need to acknowledge that that comes with a massive blind spot."

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau talks to people in a large crowd about photos. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau talks to people in a large crowd about photos. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Trudeau was equally fuzzy when asked, repeatedly, when he realized his actions were hurtful and wrong.

Some voters prepared to forgive, but not necessarily in the voting booth

Click to Expand
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau with Shawarma Khan owner Obby Khan on Arthur Street in Old Market Square in Downtown Winnipeg Thursday.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau with Shawarma Khan owner Obby Khan on Arthur Street in Old Market Square in Downtown Winnipeg Thursday.

Posted: 19/09/2019 6:24 PM

Young voters in two of Winnipeg’s ethnically diverse ridings say they can forgive Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for painting himself in brownface and blackface before being elected to office, but the racist costumes are giving them pause before casting a ballot for their Liberal representatives next month.

The federal Liberal party leader apologized and asked for the forgiveness of Canadians Wednesday evening after Time magazine posted a 2001 yearbook photo of the leader dressed in a turban and robe — with his face, neck and hands painted to resemble brown skin — at an Arabian Nights-themed gala at a Vancouver private school where he taught at the time. Additional photos and video became public on Thursday.

Read Full Story

On Wednesday, he said that in 2001, when one of the incidents occurred, he didn't realize what he was doing was racist, but he knows better now.

In Winnipeg on Thursday, he suggested that he became more enlightened after he was elected to Parliament in the Quebec riding of Papineau in 2008.

He said the privilege of representing Papineau, "an extraordinarily multicultural community where any crowd looks a lot like this crowd here in Winnipeg," made it "very, very clear to me that minimizing or further marginalizing by dressing up that way is absolutely unacceptable."

Asked whether he had warned his own political party about the incidents — which he has acknowledged as racist — when he was first vetted to run for Parliament or when he sought the Liberal leadership in 2013, Trudeau said: "I never talked about this. Quite frankly, I was embarrassed. It was not something that represents the person I've become, the leader I try to be. And it was really embarrassing."

The revelations about the prime minister have sparked media interest internationally.

Asked whether he was concerned that the reported incidents would tarnish Canada's reputation, Trudeau said: "I think we all need to recognize that even in an incredible country like Canada, there's still a lot more work to do. People are still facing discrimination, marginalization every single day."

After the news conference, a smiling Trudeau was whisked away in a black stretch limo, but not before shaking hands with some of the crowd and posing for a few pictures.

Only as he departed did protesters — some of whom vented their opposition to oil pipelines — break their polite silence and shout after the prime minister.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Friday, September 20, 2019 at 7:00 AM CDT: Corrects that Trudeau sought the Liberal leadership in 2013

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