Sun | Oct 20, 2019

Brownface, blackface photos cause scandal for Trudeau

Published:Friday | September 20, 2019 | 12:19 AM
Canadian Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau reacts as he makes a statement in regard to a photo coming to light of himself from 2001 wearing ‘brownface,’ during a scrum on his campaign plane in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Wednesday, September 18.
Canadian Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau reacts as he makes a statement in regard to a photo coming to light of himself from 2001 wearing ‘brownface,’ during a scrum on his campaign plane in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Wednesday, September 18.

TORONTO (AP):

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign moved to contain a growing scandal yesterday after a yearbook photo surfaced of him in brownface at a 2001 ‘Arabian Nights’ costume party and two other similar incidents came to light.

With the election a month away, he apologised and begged Canadians to forgive him.

Time magazine published the photo on Wednesday, saying it was taken from the yearbook from the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in British Columbia where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics. It shows the then-29-year-old Trudeau in a turban and robe with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck.

Trudeau, who launched his re-election campaign a week ago, said he should have known better.

“I’m pissed off at myself. I’m disappointed in myself,” he told reporters on his campaign plane.

Trudeau is the latest in a string of politicians to get in trouble over racially offensive photos and actions from their younger days.

Earlier this year, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam faced intense pressure to resign after a racist picture surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook page. He denied being in the picture, but admitted wearing blackface as a young man while portraying Michael Jackson at a dance party in the 1980s. Since then, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has acknowledged wearing blackface in college, and Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has apologised donning blackface during a college skit more than 50 years ago. None of them stepped down.

The photo of Trudeau was taken at the school’s annual dinner, which had an ‘Arabian Nights’ theme that year, Trudeau said, adding that he was dressed as a character from Aladdin.

The prime minister said it was not the first time he darkened his face. He said he once did it while performing a version of Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song (Day-O) during a talent show.

“I should have known better then, but I didn’t, and I am deeply sorry for it,” Trudeau said. “I’m going to ask Canadians to forgive me for what I did. I shouldn’t have done that. I take responsibility for it. It was a dumb thing to do.”

Global News also reported on a third instance, broadcasting a brief video of Trudeau in blackface while raising his hands in the air and sticking out his tongue. A spokeswoman for Trudeau’s Liberal Party said the footage was from the early 1990s. The Canadian TV network said it was not clear where the tape was made.

The furore could spell more trouble for Trudeau, who, polls say, is facing a serious challenge on October 21 from Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

“What Canadians saw this evening was someone with a complete lack of judgement and integrity, and someone who is not fit to govern this country,” Scheer said.