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Trudeau condemned for appearing in brownface at 2001 school gala, says he is "deeply sorry"

Ahead of Canada's elections, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has come under fire for his donning racist garb on two separate occasions.

Trudeau condemned for appearing in brownface at 2001 school gala, says he is "deeply sorry"

While the United States' northern neighbor Canada is usually characterized as unable to commit no wrong, it appears that the nation's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau evidently can. In shocking news, TIME Magazine reports that Trudeau donned brownface to attend a 2001 gala night at the private school he taught at. Brown or blackface is when a white person attempts to pass off as a person of color, particularly Latin American, Middle Eastern, Polynesian, Native American, and/or Indian, through painting their skin a darker color. It is considered racist. After a photo of the liberal and typically politically correct diplomat emerged, he was strongly condemned for his actions and lack of awareness, especially given the diverse population of his country. Following the controversy, Prime Minister Trudeau issued an official apology in which he affirmed how "deeply sorry" he was about the incident.


The picture, which had previously gone unreported, displayed Trudeau wearing brownface makeup during an Arabian Nights-themed gala at the private school he taught at when he was 29 years old. In addition to the brownface, he was pictured wearing a turban and robes. His hands and neck were also painted a darker color than his own skin tone. The photograph was discovered in the 2000-2001 West Point Grey Academy yearbook, The View. TIME obtained a copy of the yearbook from Vancouver businessman Michael Adamson who felt the photo should be made public. He, too, was part of the West Point Grey Academy community. While he did not attend the party himself, other faculty members, administrators, and parents did. Zita Astravas, the media relations lead of the Liberal Party of Canada, confirmed that it was indeed Prime Minister Trudeau in the photo. She clarified, "It was a photo taken while he was teaching in Vancouver, at the school’s annual dinner which had a costume theme of Arabian Nights. He attended with friends and colleagues dressed as a character from Aladdin."


In light of this, numerous individuals have come forward in order to condemn the Prime Minister's act. Most notably, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh who wears a turban himself, declared, "It's making a mockery of someone for what they live and what their lived experiences are. I think he needs to answer for it. I think he needs to answer the question why he did that and what does that say about what he thinks about people who, because of who they are, because of the color of their skin, face challenges and barriers and obstacles in their life. Racism is real. People in this room have felt it, have heard this story. I've experienced it in my life. he's got to answer those questions." He also had a message for Canadian children of color. He affirmed to them, "The kids that see this image, the people that see this image, are going to think about all the times in their life that they were made fun of, that they were hurt, that they were hit, that they were insulted, that they were made to feel less because of who they are and I want to talk to those people right now. I want to talk to all the kids out there. You might feel like giving up on Canada. You might feel like giving up on yourselves. I want you to know that you have value, you have worth and you are loved and I don't want you to give up on Canada and please don't give up on yourselves." The speech was a moving moment for many minority communities in a country where white privilege and racism still prevail.


Meanwhile, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer used the opportunity to allege Trudeau was unfit to hold office. "Like all Canadians, I was extremely shocked and disappointed when I learned of Justin Trudeau's actions this evening," he stated. "Wearing brownface is an act of open mockery and racism. It was just as racist in 2001 as it is in 2019. And what Canadians saw this evening was someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity and someone who is not fit to govern this country." With the Prime Minister's re-election campaign only recently underway, this is a crucial juncture in time for the Liberal leader. Therefore, he asserted while talking to reporters on his campaign plane sounding a bit like a broken record, "In 2001, when I was a teacher in Vancouver, I attended a gala. The theme was Arabian Nights. I dressed up in an Aladdin costume and put makeup on. I shouldn't have done that. I should have known better, but I didn't and I'm really sorry. I take responsibility for my decision to do that. I shouldn't have done it. I should have known better. It was something that I didn't think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist to do and I am deeply sorry."


Though Trudeau apologized profusely, this is not the first time he had worn racist garb. In his apology, he also admitted that he wore blackface to sing 'Day-O,' a Jamaican folk song performed by African-American singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, at a talent show held at his high school, Le collège Jean-de-Brébeuf. However, when asked if he should resign from his role as the Liberal party's leader, he suggested that such incidents should be confronted on a "case-by-case" basis. He said, "There are people who make mistakes in this life and you make decisions based on what they actually do, what they did, and on a case-by-case basis. I deeply regret that I did that. I should have known better but I didn't." Five weeks ahead of voting day, only time will tell if Trudeau will be able to recover from this controversy and move forward.


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