Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the handsome, charming champion of Western liberal ideals of diversity and inclusion, is facing a mounting political crisis after revelations that he appeared in brownface on more than one occasion in his not-too-distant past.
It all started on Wednesday evening, when Time magazine published a photograph of Trudeau wearing offensive makeup at an Arabian Nights-themed party at West Point Grey Academy, the private day school where Trudeau was a teacher in 2001. The photo appeared in the school’s 2000-’01 yearbook. Trudeau was 29 years old at the time the photo was taken.
In the image, Trudeau is dressed in a white turban decorated with a large feather in the front and what looks like a flowing white robe — what he later described as an “Aladdin costume.” His face, neck, and hands are all covered in dark brown makeup. He stands with a group of four women, his arm around one — none of whom are wearing brownface.
Time magazine has just dropped a bombshell report on @JustinTrudeau
We are with the campaign now. We are told Trudeau will address this before his plane takes off.
Photo Shows Justin Trudeau in Brownface at ‘Arabian Nights’ Party | Time https://t.co/LzDSPaGEiN
— David Cochrane (@CochraneCBC) September 18, 2019
Speaking to reporters shortly after the story broke, Trudeau said, “I deeply regret that I did that. I should have known better, but I didn’t. … I’m deeply sorry that I did that.”
“I take responsibility for my decision to do that. It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time,” Trudeau said, adding that he knows now that it was racist. “I’m pissed off with myself for having done it.”
When asked if he’d ever done something like this at any other time in his life, he revealed that in high school he’d participated in a talent show in which he “wore makeup and sang ‘Day-O,’” referring to a traditional Jamaican folk song.
Then, on Thursday, yet another instance of Trudeau appearing in brownface surfaced. Canada’s Global News obtained video showing Trudeau, his face and neck covered in dark brown makeup, laughing, raising his hands in the air, and sticking out his tongue. He is dressed in a T-shirt and ripped jeans. His arms also seem to be covered in the dark makeup, but it is a bit difficult to tell for sure given the grainy quality of the video.
It’s unclear when and where the video was taken, but it appears to be a separate instance from the Arabian Nights party. The Liberal Party of Canada, which Trudeau leads, confirmed to Global News that it is Trudeau who appears in the video.
The prime minister is currently on the campaign trail in advance of the country’s federal elections on October 21. He indicated to reporters that he planned to continue campaigning, saying he’ll have to work harder now to convince voters of his values.
He’s already facing the fallout from an unrelated political corruption scandal in which he and his political allies were accused of improperly pressuring Canada’s now-former minister of justice and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to drop criminal corruption charges against the Quebec-based engineering company SNC-Lavalin.
That scandal has somewhat tarnished his shiny image as a proponent of progressive values, as Vox’s Jen Kirby explained:
Trudeau, who became prime minister in 2015, made transparency, inclusion, and openness a centerpiece of his leadership philosophy, and he became democracy’s biggest cheerleader. He modeled his governing platform on promoting gender equality and indigenous rights.
His alleged pressure campaign and the eventual sidelining of Wilson-Raybould — a former prosecutor and indigenous woman who was once a symbol of Trudeau’s diverse and gender-balanced cabinet — very much looks like a betrayal of those values.
The big question in the upcoming election was whether Trudeau’s record on other issues and his personal boyish charm would be enough to convince voters to reelect him. The revelation that he once chose to wear brownface multiple times — including at least once while he was a teacher attending a school function, no less — will certainly cause some voters to rethink whether Trudeau is the man they thought he was.