Three instances of Trudeau in skin-darkening makeup emerge

A 2001 yearbook photo in which he is wearing ‘brownface,’ a confession that he performed a Harry Belafonte song in blackface and a video showing a young Trudeau, again in blackface, have come to light since yesterday

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau makes a statement in regards to photo coming to light of himself from 2001 wearing "brownface" during a scrum on his campaign plane in Halifax, N.S., on Wednesday, September 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

It won’t be campaigning as usual for Justin Trudeau today as three instances of the Liberal leader wearing skin-darkening makeup have emerged.

First, a 2001 photo surfaced of Trudeau dressed elaborately as Aladdin, his face and hands darkened by makeup during an "Arabian Nights"-themed party at the Vancouver private school where he once taught.

Trudeau also confessed Wednesday night to having worn makeup during a high-school talent show, while performing a version of Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat Song (Day-O)."

See also: Commentary - Unearthed photo deep-sixes Justin Trudeau’s brand

Now, Global News has published a video of a young Trudeau in blackface, showing him sticking out his tongue for the camera and raising his arms over his head.

A Liberal spokesperson confirmed its authenticity and said it was filmed in the early 1990s.

Trudeau has conceded it will take some doing to restore his image as a champion of diversity and tolerance.

"I'm asking Canadians to forgive me for what I did," he said Wednesday night during an emergency news conference aboard the Liberal campaign plane before taking off from Halifax for Winnipeg, where he was scheduled to have events Thursday.

"I shouldn't have done that. It was a dumb thing to do. I'm disappointed in myself. I'm pissed off at myself for having done it. I apologize for it."

He added that he didn't consider it a racist action at the time, "but now we know better.

"This is something unacceptable and it is racist."

He said he'll spend this morning talking to his three kids about "taking responsibility for mistakes we make, about living every day to try to be a better person." And he said he'll be spending time talking to visible minority Liberal MPs and candidates, some of whom he spoke with Wednesday evening.

Trudeau's foes will no doubt also be grappling with the fallout while they go about their more routine campaigning. They all responded Wednesday night, but now have to weigh whether to pile on Trudeau or adhere to the political maxim of never interfering when an opponent is the process of destroying themselves.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, the first federal party leader from a visible minority, was scheduled to be in Hamilton. On Wednesday night, he responded more personally than politically, choking up as he talked about how people who have faced discrimination because of their skin colour will be hurt by the revelation about Trudeau's past activities.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer spoke only briefly after landing in Quebec, where he has events today in Saint-Hyacinthe, Granby and Sherbrooke, but signalled that he intends to give no quarter.

"Wearing brownface is an act of open mockery and racism," Scheer said. "It was just as racist in 2001 as it is in 2019. And what Canadians saw this evening is someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity and someone who is not fit to govern this country."

Throughout the first week of the campaign, the Liberal war room has made hay with past comments and social media posts from Scheer and Conservative candidates, exposing what Liberals deem examples of intolerance toward minorities. Trudeau himself has called out Scheer for his refusal to march in gay Pride parades.

On Twitter late Wednesday, People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier said he won't accuse Trudeau of being a racist.

"He's the master of identity politics and the Libs just spent months accusing everyone of being white supremacists," he tweeted. "He definitely is the biggest hypocrite in the country."

Green Leader Elizabeth May, who is to speak to the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations today in Vancouver, said Trudeau "must apologize for the harm done and commit to learning and appreciating the requirement to model social justice leadership at all levels of government. In this matter he has failed."

Yearbook photo of Trudeau wearing ‘brownface’ costume in 2001

HALIFAX — The emergence of the photo instantly tarnished the Liberal leader's image as a champion of inclusivity and tolerance.

The photo depicts Trudeau, who was attending an "Arabian Nights"-themed gala event, wearing an elaborate turban and robe, his face, hands and neck blackened by makeup.

"It was a dumb thing to do," the prime minister said during an emergency news conference on board the Liberal campaign plane before taking off for Winnipeg.

"I'm disappointed in myself, I'm pissed off at myself for having done it. I wish I hadn't done it, but I did it, and I apologize for it."

Asked whether it was the only such instance, Trudeau admitted that during a high school talent show, he wore makeup while performing a version of Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat Song (Day-O)," although he didn't explicitly say the makeup was dark.

He also said he's been calling friends and colleagues to apologize personally for the photo, adding that he expects to be making more such calls on Thursday.

"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'm deeply sorry," he said.

"I have worked all my life to try and create opportunities for people, to fight against racism and intolerance, and I can just stand here and say that I made a mistake when I was younger, and I wish I hadn't."

The picture depicts the now-Liberal leader alongside four young women — his hands draped over one of them — in what appear to be cocktail dresses, none dressed as elaborately as Trudeau. The report describes the photo as having been the subject of gossip within the West Point Grey community.

Word of the photo ripped through the Liberal campaign bus like wildfire when the story broke, instantly changing what had been a convivial end-of-day mood. Staff members suddenly began talking frantically on their cellphones as reporters urgently called their newsrooms before snapping open their laptops.

So-called "blackface" images have been a frequent source of controversy in recent years, predominantly in the United States, where last year a number of prominent state politicians were forced to apologize for similar yearbook images that surfaced publicly.

But the image surely represents a crisis moment for Trudeau, whose political brand as Liberal leader and prime minister has been forged by themes of tolerance, inclusivity and racial harmony.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who was taking part in a town hall meeting when the news broke, said it's becoming clear that Trudeau's public persona may not be an accurate reflection of who he is.

"I think he needs to answer for it. I think he's got 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 colour of their skin, face challenges and barriers and obstacles in their life," Singh said.

"Who is the real Mr. Trudeau? Is it the one behind closed doors, the one when the cameras are turned off that no one sees?" Singh asked. "Is that the real Mr. Trudeau? Because more and more, it seems like it is."

The National Council of Canadian Muslims wasted little time calling on Trudeau to explain the "deeply saddening" photo.

"The wearing of blackface/brownface is reprehensible, and hearkens back to a history of racism, slavery, and an Orientalist mythology that is unacceptable," said executive director Mustafa Farooq, who later issued a statement thanking the prime minister for apologizing so quickly.

Before he did, Green Leader Elizabeth May described herself as "deeply shocked" by the "racism" on display in the photo.

"He must apologize for the harm done and commit to learning and appreciating the requirement to model social justice leadership at all levels of government," May tweeted.

"In this matter he has failed."

The Canadian Press