November 11, 2019

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Trudeau sets the gold (double) standard

Opinion

If an election candidate from any political party was found to have repeatedly mocked and dehumanized people of colour by painting their face brown — including doing so at the age of 29 — that person would be forced to step down.

So, why is Justin Trudeau still a candidate in the 2019 federal election?

That question was not answered Thursday, when the Liberal leader was in Winnipeg during a campaign stop.

Trudeau, whose re-election campaign has fallen into a tailspin after multiple images emerged this week of him blackening his face as recently as 2001, said he was sorry for his past behaviour. He said what he did was unacceptable.

While Justin Trudeau did his best to express remorse Thursday, he was also dodgy when asked to provide further details and context of the incidents. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

While Justin Trudeau did his best to express remorse Thursday, he was also dodgy when asked to provide further details and context of the incidents. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

He didn’t know it was wrong at the time, Trudeau claimed — even though he was a grown man the last time he coloured his face brown (that we know of). He was a teacher, an adult in a position of authority and trust. It was a year after he delivered a televised eulogy of his father in 2000, which thrust him into the public spotlight and kickstarted talks about a possible political career.

While Trudeau did his best to express remorse Thursday, he was also dodgy when asked to provide further details and context of the incidents.

When asked how many times he darkened his face, at first, Trudeau didn’t answer. When pressed later, he said he didn’t know how often he did it. He said he couldn’t remember.

So, why is Justin Trudeau still a candidate in the 2019 federal election?

Why didn’t Trudeau disclose this issue earlier, as candidates often do when they’re vetted for a political position? He was embarrassed, he said. And his shame prevented him from telling anyone, including Liberal party officials.

"I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone because I’m not that person anymore, I’m someone who understands the deep hurt caused by actions like that to people who live with discrimination every single day," said Trudeau, who has represented the Quebec riding of Papineau since 2008.

When asked repeatedly at what point he became aware that darkening one’s face was racist, he didn’t answer directly. Instead, Trudeau lectured how racism is still a problem in society and boasted about how much the government, under his leadership as prime minister, has done to fight it.

"We have a lot more work to do, all of us," he said.

When asked repeatedly at what point he became aware that darkening one’s face was racist, Trudeau didn’t answer directly. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

When asked repeatedly at what point he became aware that darkening one’s face was racist, Trudeau didn’t answer directly. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

The more Trudeau spoke, the more questions he raised.

He said once he discovered Time magazine was seeking these images (it broke the story this week), "I told my staff."

How did he know Time was looking for such pictures? And how long did he know?

He wouldn’t say.

Why didn’t he come clean once he knew Time was seeking these images?

The answer is simple: Trudeau doesn’t admit anything until he’s caught. It was only after the images became public he was suddenly "pissed off" at himself and sorry for what he did.

Trudeau’s first instinct is to withhold the truth, as he did in the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Under any other circumstances, Trudeau would have to step down as a candidate — as many others have had to do because of inappropriate behaviour.

The first thing out of his mouth after the Globe and Mail broke the story about how he attempted to interfere in a criminal prosecution was that the story was false. He lied. We now know the Office of the Prime Minister and other senior federal officials not only tried to interfere in a criminal prosecution, they worked directly with SNC-Lavalin to try to find a way to avoid prosecution.

So when Trudeau stands in the middle of Winnipeg's Old Market Square and says he now suddenly realizes, after 18 years, what he did was wrong — and the only reason he didn’t disclose this earlier was because of personal shame — it’s hard to take the guy seriously.

He’s an actor. And his acting was pretty good Thursday. He even managed to well up with tears for about 30 seconds. It was good TV.

Under any other circumstances, Trudeau would have to step down as a candidate — as many others have had to do because of inappropriate behaviour.

But because of a double standard that applies to him, the Liberal leader gets to stay.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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