Justin Trudeau’s election campaign rocked by past incidents he acknowledges were ‘racist’

OTTAWA—Hours after his campaign was rocked by revelations that Justin Trudeau appeared in brownface during his time as a teacher, a new video appears to show yet another incident.

The video posted by Global News shows a brief clip of Trudeau in blackface, wearing a white t-shirt, sticking his tongue out.

Liberal party officials did not immediately respond to the Star’s request for comment but confirmed to Global News that it was Trudeau.

Trudeau was already facing wide condemnation after Time magazine published a photo showing the prime minister, then a teacher, wearing brownface makeup and a turban at a 2001 private school party.

At a hastily called news conference onboard his campaign plane Wednesday night, Trudeau said he didn’t think it was racist at the time, but now acknowledges that it was.

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

He admitted that it wasn’t his first time he had dressed in brownface. “When I was in high school I dressed up at a talent show and sang ‘Day-O,’” Trudeau said, adding quickly, “and put makeup on.”

A photo showing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at a 2001 costume party ? his hands and face blackened with makeup ? was published by Time Magazine Wednesday. They say it was published in the yearbook from the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in Vancouver, B.C., where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics.

The incident has garnered international attention, with news coverage by the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, BBC and the Guardian newspaper in the U.K.


It’s not clear that an apology and an appeal for forgiveness will be enough for Trudeau and his campaign for re-election for a second term in what was already a tight race with the Conservatives.

The Liberal campaign was scrambling Thursday. Trudeau is in Winnipeg but the carefully choreographed campaign schedule was ditched with no immediate events scheduled for him.

His political rivals spoke out against Trudeau’s actions and the political fallout could worsen as the true impact of the images sinks in among Canadians.

On Thursday night, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh appeared visibly shaken as he spoke to reporters in Mississauga. The first leader of a major federal party who is not white, Singh has written in his memoir about fighting bullies who made racist comments about his brown skin and turban when he was growing up. His voice broke as he spoke about people of colour who may not have been able to fight for themselves like he did, and he said he hoped the sight of a Canadian prime minister in brownface wouldn’t shatter anyone’s sense of belonging in this country.

On Thursday, as news broke of the third instance of Trudeau in brown or blackface, Singh spoke to Newstalk 1010 radio about why such acts are racist.

A high school yearbook photo from Montreal's College Jean-de-Brebeuf shows Justin Trudeau in blackface, wearing bellbottoms, and a loud print jacket.


“There’s a long history of mockery and ridiculing people for the way they look, and the use of brownface or blackface has really clearly been a part of racism,” he said. “It belittles and mocks the existence that someone lives.”

Politically, Singh argued the contrast between Trudeau as Liberal leader — with his public embrace of diversity and social acceptance — and Trudeau “in private” brings up questions about his character and sincerity. He said it will even “be tough” to shake Trudeau’s hand at the next leaders’ debate of the campaign.

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“Today I think what a lot of Canadians are asking is, who is Mr. Trudeau? What does he really believe in?”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said that brownface is an act of “open mockery and racism.”

“It was just as racist in 2001 as it is in 2019. What Canadians saw this evening is someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity and someone who’s not fit to govern this country,” said Scheer, who is expected to speak further on the topic Thursday morning.

The brownface incident happened at an “Arabian Nights” themed party hosted by West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver, where Trudeau, then 29, was a teacher.

Bruce Campion-Smith

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