Here’s what we know so far about Trudeau’s ‘Arabian Nights’ evening in brownface and the Vancouver school where it happened

Here’s what we know so far about Trudeau’s ‘Arabian Nights’ evening in brownface and the Vancouver school where it happened

VANCOUVER—The evening started at 6 p.m. with guests entering through a “cascading” red tent.

That’s according to a 2001 school newsletter from Vancouver’s West Point Grey Academy in which 29-year-old Justin Trudeau, then a teacher, is photographed at an “Arabian Nights” themed gala wearing a turban, with his face, hands and feet painted brown.

The private school and its event have been thrust into the spotlight by the bombshell now threatening to derail Trudeau’s re-election bid.

The private school is located on an 18-acre lot overlooking the ocean in an affluent Vancouver neighbourhood. The school has yet to answer return requests for comment on the growing scandal.

“As the ballroom doors opened, two belly dancers emerged, dancing around the marketplace auction and escorting people into the lavishly decorated ballroom — rich fabrics, glittering trinkets on the table,” the newsletter recounts.

There were more than 350 auction items displayed in the foyer and people were eager to start the bidding. There was a master of ceremonies who greeted all the guests.

“As the exotic meal was being served, the live auction began with items ranging from the ever-popular parking spots to fabulous vacations,” the newsletter said. “Later on, the music started, and as usual our parents and teachers rose to the occasion by filling the dance floor.”

The event wound down by roughly 1 a.m. and raised approximately $160,000, which the newsletter said would benefit the “school life of students in all grades.”


Founded by four families in 1996, West Point Grey Academy was envisioned as “a progressive” option for an area that at the time had no other co-ed schools.

The school today has 940 students in junior kindergarten to Grade 12 with a ratio of eight students per teacher, according to its website, compared to the average student-teacher ratio for Vancouver public schools of 18 to one. Current tuition fees range from $21,780 for younger students to $23,490 for students in Grades 8 to 12.

Trudeau, who completed a Bachelor of Education in 1998 at the University of British Columbia, taught French and math at West Point Grey Academy. The Liberal Leader then went on to teach at Winston Churchill Secondary School, a public school, in south Vancouver.

Layne Moore, who attended West Point Grey as an elementary student from 1996 to 1999, recalled learning during a schoolwide assembly that Trudeau would be coming to the school, and that everyone was told to treat him as they would any other teacher.

Moore only sat through a handful of classes with Trudeau before she transferred to a nearby public school. But she recalls her time with him with great enthusiasm.


“When I had him, he was right up my alley. He was super energetic.”

In a 2000 interview with The Canadian Press, Clive Austin, headmaster at the academy, was asked about Trudeau potentially having a future in politics.

“His future, as far as I’m concerned, is here,” Austin said. “If he leaves the teaching profession, there will be a lot of children who will miss out on his enthusiasm and love for life. On the other hand, he could make as great an impact on the country as his dad did.”

Hours after Time magazine published the photo of Trudeau at the gala, another emerged with Trudeau’s face painted black, singing “Day-O” at his high school. By morning, a video had emerged.

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On Wednesday night, Trudeau said he didn’t think it was racist at the time but now sees that it was.

“I regret it deeply,” he said. “It’s something I shouldn’t have done, many years ago, and I recognize that I shouldn’t have done it.”

Melanie Green

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