Revelations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly engaged in the racist practice of blackface have thrown his re-election campaign into a tailspin.
On at least three past occasions, Trudeau wore dark makeup to caricature people of colour. The Liberal leader has since apologized and admitted his behaviour was racist. The revelations have thrown his political future into doubt and threaten his grip on Canada’s top political office.
Speaking to reporters Thursday in Winnipeg, Trudeau expressed contrition, while sidestepping pointed questions.
Behind him on a patch of lawn in Old Market Square stood eight people, all of them Liberal MPs or candidates in Manitoba. They will be seeking re-election, or election for the first time, when Canadians head to the polls Oct. 21.
The symbolism of the moment was clear: the Liberal party stands with Justin Trudeau.
In order to learn more about what Liberals in Manitoba think about this issue, the Free Press reached out to all 14 candidates in the province.
Seven agreed to interviews; six others — incumbents Kevin Lamoureux and MaryAnn Mihychuk, and candidates Judy Klassen, Detlev Regelsky, Jane Dawson and Dick Scott — did not respond.
After the report was published, the Free Press was able to speak to Jennifer Malabar, whose answers were added.
Three questions were posed:
Question 1: Do you believe Justin Trudeau is a racist?
Question 2: Will these revelations pose a problem for you on the campaign trail?
Question 3: What will you tell people of colour in your riding who are hurt?
Their responses (which have been edited for clarity and length):
Q1: Justin Trudeau is not a racist. I’ve spent the last four years with him in caucus. I have heard him repeatedly denounce racism. I’ve also been witness to the fact he’s been one of the driving forces behind our anti-racism strategy. He’s been on the front lines of fighting racism.
Q2: I was at the doors (Thursday) night. We did about 200 homes. The issue did come up a few times. The response I received from constituents was: ‘The prime minister made a mistake. It was a lapse in judgement. It was insensitive. It was unfortunate.’ They accept his apology and just about to a person admitted that we’ve all done stupid things in our youth. And I made a point of going into one of the most multicultural neighbourhoods in my district.
Q3: I think my constituents took the prime minister at his word. They believed he was sincere. The prime minister apologized for his behaviour in the past. They are going to judge us by our record and our deeds. In my district of Winnipeg South, we are the most diverse district in the province. I think Winnipeg is a model to the world of how people can live together, and we celebrate that in Winnipeg South. I know our prime minister celebrates that, as well.
Q1: No, unequivocally no. This is based on my own experience working closely with him for six years now, and four of those years in cabinet. I know he’s committed to equality, to fighting racism. He feels deeply in Canada’s special role in the world because of our diversity. I have every reason to believe Justin Trudeau doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.
Q2: When the issue comes up, I talk about our record on the file, about our nationwide anti-racism strategy, about the number of men and women in our caucus of different racial backgrounds, of how much we respect diversity. I think people understand that his apology was heartfelt.
Q3: The first thing to do is to listen to them, to understand that hurt, to be attentive to their perspective and to reassure people the actions of our government show we very well understand the importance of promoting our diversity and celebrating it. It’s not a question of tolerating diversity, it’s celebrating diversity. So you listen and listen carefully, and then talk about the programs and policies that we have taken.
Q1: No, not at all. The incidents themselves were very hurtful and the content of what he was doing may have been. He has acknowledged these things he did were racist, but as for him, no. I have worked with him for several years and I’ve followed his record. He’s not a racist.
Q2: It’s not changing anything I’m doing. The strategy we’ve had all along is to tell people about our government’s record. Our record as to what we’ve accomplished over the last four years hasn’t changed. That’s the message I’ve been hearing at the doors during the campaign.
Q3: I would want to hear what they had to say first. What were their feelings about it? And I would explain to them I understand this is hurtful. I would say I understand they’re disappointed, but I would point out he took responsibility for what he did. He apologized.
Q1: The Justin Trudeau that I’ve known since 2015 is the polar opposite of a racist. He’s gentle. He’s accommodating. He’s generous with everybody regardless of race, religion or anything else.
Q2: I have a campaign to run. I’ve been running it for months now. It’s not going to change what I do. As I said earlier, the Justin Trudeau I’ve known since 2015 is the polar opposite of a racist.
Q3: I’ll try to put this into some context. It was 20 years ago. I’m very proud of what our government has done since 2015. All you have to do is look at the cabinet Justin Trudeau put together. It was a very diverse cabinet. We removed 87 boil-water advisories from reserves across Canada. There are 54 more to go and we’re going to get them all done by next year. We’ve invested historic amounts in partnership with Indigenous nations. That’s not the sort of accomplishments that occur from racist government.
Q1: (Long pause) That’s an interesting question. I think we have inherited the past thought processes of our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents, from society, from 100 years ago, from colonization. And I think in Canada, we have this opportunity of actually building a future that’s beneficial to each and every one of us. And while we’re on the path of reconciliation, we need to keep moving forward. We need to continue to press this issue and denounce it if we encounter it, but to do it in a kind way. This can be a teaching moment.
Q2: I go to the mosque. I go to the Catholic churches. I spend time at the Rainbow Resource Centre. No matter where you’re from, I will be your representative in Parliament. I will fight for you. I care about your values. I will listen to you and if you raise an issue with me, I’ll raise that issue in Parliament. I will speak truth to power each and every day.
Q3: No matter if you’re family has been 50,000 years, since time immemorial, or you have come here only last week, I will be there for you. I will be your MP to fight for your values and your rights.
Q1: No, I don’t. I don’t know him personally myself, having not worked with him. But I look at the legislation and the policies he has put forward over the last four years and, for me, those speak volumes. I’ve also been listening to what people who do know him and have worked with him extremely closely have been saying, and particularly people of colour. I’m noticing they are all very supportive of him.
Q2: When my team was out door-knocking (Thursday), the topic did come up one time. It was raised by a constituent who is an immigrant. From his perspective, he was saying the legislation and the policies brought forward under Justin Trudeau, those things are what are important.
Q3: I’m sorry for the pain they’re feeling. I think it’s very important to listen to those perspectives. And I will say that I’m committed to fighting racism, whether or not I’m elected, for the rest of my life.
Q1: I don’t believe Justin Trudeau is a racist.
Q2: I don’t think so, mainly because Justin Trudeau has accepted responsibility for his actions. He has apologized. I do not feel, at this point, that I need to try to defend him. There are more important issues going on in Portage—Lisgar that will affect the campaign here.
Q3: I would apologize. I would say the prime minister has also apologized. He has taken responsibility for it. That is not who I am as a person and that is not what I’m bringing to the table as their representative
Q1: Justin Trudeau has done things that are racist. Racism is endemic to our society. I ask of Justin Trudeau no more than I ask of myself or any other white person – listen to people of colour when they say your actions have hurt them, acknowledge the harm you have caused, apologize and learn to be a better person and a better ally. I believe Justin is trying to do that.
Q2: Justin Trudeau’s actions have provided an opportunity for me to speak with people at the doors about racism and how we as a society can combat it. Whether or not I lose votes over this issue is not what is important to me. What is important is that we use this incident to teach us all how to do better.
Q3: It is not my place to tell people of colour anything about their experience. Now is a time for listening. I believe that the actions of the Prime Minister were unacceptable. I acknowledge the hurt caused. I will work tirelessly alongside people of colour to dismantle all forms of racism.
Updated on Saturday, September 21, 2019 at 9:00 AM CDT: Photo positioning.
12:17 PM: Adds photos
September 22, 2019 at 2:06 PM: Adds answers from Jennifer Malabar