'Blackface': Third incident of Canadian PM Justin Trudeau in racist make-up emerges

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologises for wearing brownface make-up while speaking to reporters in his election campaign jet in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on Sept 18, 2019.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologises for wearing brownface make-up while speaking to reporters in his election campaign jet in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on Sept 18, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

TORONTO (WASHINGTON POST) - A third incident of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appearing in racist make-up emerged on Thursday morning (Sept 19), hours after he apologised for wearing brownface at an Arabian Nights-themed party in 2001 and blackface at a high school performance.

A Liberal Party spokesman confirmed that the young man in blackface in the video published on Thursday morning by Global News was Mr Trudeau, and said it was "from the early 1990s". Mr Trudeau turned 20 in 1991.

The succession of revelations on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning has rocked Mr Trudeau's campaign as he faces a tough battle for a second term. Mr Trudeau, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Thursday, has cancelled his morning events.

Mr Trudeau, 47, apologised on Wednesday evening after Time magazine published a yearbook photograph taken in 2001, when Mr Trudeau was a teacher at the private West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver. It depicts the then 29-year-old smiling while wearing a feathered turban, his face darkened in a practice with racist roots.

"I attended an end-of-year gala where the theme was Arabian nights. I dressed up in an Aladdin costume and put makeup on," Mr Trudeau told reporters. "I shouldn't have done that. I should have known better, but I didn't, and I'm really sorry."

Mr Trudeau also admitted to wearing blackface in high school while singing the song Day-O at a talent show.

The prime minister kicked off his reelection bid last week amid a political climate that has grown increasingly grim for the Liberal Party leader once considered an international darling.

Mr Trudeau faces a formidable challenge from Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who blasted his opponent on Wednesday night, calling the brownface photo "an act of open mockery and racism".

Speaking to reporters in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Mr Scheer said he was "shocked" and "disappointed".

The Conservatives, who are in a dead heat with the Liberals, have accused Mr Trudeau of being "not as advertised".

Mr Trudeau, who said in his apology on Wednesday that he has "worked all (his) life to try and create opportunities for people to fight against racism and intolerance", has positioned himself as a champion of diversity and inclusiveness.

He earned international acclaim in 2015 when, as the new prime minister, he unveiled "a Cabinet that looks like Canada", as he put it then. He has boasted about having more Sikhs in his Cabinet than Prime Minister Narendra Modi does in India.

Speaking from a campaign plane in Halifax, Mr Trudeau said that he now recognises brownface as "racist". He added that he spent the evening calling friends and colleagues and has "many more calls to make".

The story landed like a bomb one week into a campaign that has seen the Liberals digging up and releasing old social media posts and videos from Conservative candidates that they say show that the party is welcoming to those who hold insensitive and intolerant views.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims thanked Mr Trudeau on Wednesday evening for his swift apology, after tweeting a statement from executive director Mustafa Farooq calling the prime minister's use of brownface "deeply saddening".

"The wearing of blackface/brownface is reprehensible, and hearkens back to a history of racism and an Orientalist mythology which is unacceptable," Mr Farooq's statement read.

Mr Jagmeet Singh, a turban-wearing Sikh who leads Canada's left-leaning New Democratic Party, called the photograph "troubling" and "insulting". At a news conference in Mississauga, Ontario, he spoke directly to those who have experienced racism and "might feel like giving up on Canada".

"I want you to know that you have value, you have worth and you are loved," he said, his voice breaking.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May also shared her dismay.

"I am deeply shocked by the racism shown in the photograph of Justin Trudeau," she tweeted. "He must apologise for the harm done and commit to learning and appreciating the requirement to model social justice leadership at all levels of government. In this matter he has failed."

Mr Trudeau has been panned before for his attire choices, something he alluded to on Wednesday, saying he has "been more enthusiastic about costumes than is sometimes appropriate".

Last February, he faced scrutiny for wearing embroidered kurtas and sherwanis - traditional Indian garb - during a diplomatically awkward trip to India. In response to criticism over his many costume changes on that sojourn, he told reporters: "I have long been known to wear traditional clothes to a broad range of events in many different communities in Canada and elsewhere."

Mr Trudeau is also battling a furor over ethics violations after the country's then-attorney general accused government officials of pressuring her into reaching an out-of-court settlement with an engineering firm from Mr Trudeau's home province that was charged with bribery and corruption.

In nationally televised parliamentary hearings, the former attorney general, Ms Jody Wilson-Raybould, said she received "veiled threats" and was demoted when she refused to succumb to the pressure.

The allegations set off a political firestorm and triggered several high-profile resignations, including that of Ms Wilson-Raybould, who was then expelled from the Liberal Party.

 
 
 
 

Mr Trudeau - who pitched Canadians on running a transparent government that would be open to diverse views - stood accused of shady backroom dealings and judicial interference, of being a fake feminist, and of bullying Ms Wilson-Raybould, an indigenous woman.

South of the 49th parallel, white American politicians have a lengthy history of racist pantomime. US lawmakers from both parties have faced scrutiny and scorn for wearing blackface - a caricature of black people inspired by minstrel shows dating to the 1830s.

Most recently, Alabama Republican Governor Kay Ivey apologised last month for wearing "some black paint all over her face" during a college skit in 1967. And earlier this year, Virginia Democratic Governor Ralph Northam admitted to wearing blackface to impersonate Michael Jackson.

The Northam incident began a national outcry that shed new light on the racist past of Northam and the scores of other politicians who for years have emerged from similar scandals relatively unscathed.