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Canada PM Justin Trudeau can't say how many times he wore blackface

“I am wary of being definitive,” he told reporters yesterday.

Image: Sean Kilpatrick/PA Images

CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER Justin Trudeau again apologised yesterday for his “absolutely unacceptable” behaviour, as decades-old images of him in blackface makeup emerged.

Trudeau, however, was unable to say how many times he had worn blackface, telling reporters: “I am wary of being definitive.” He added that he hadn’t remembered the incidents that were revealed over the past few days.

The publication of the images by the Globe and Mail, Global News and Time Magazine have rocked the Canadian premier in the middle of his re-election campaign ahead of next month’s ballots.

The photo Time published yesterday had featured in a school yearbook from 2001, and showed Trudeau wearing the makeup at an Arabian Nights-themed party.

just-trudeau Source: Time Magazine

He also admitted to wearing similar makeup in his teens when he sang Harry Belafonte’s 1956 hit Banana Boat Song (Day-O) at a high school talent contest. A later video published yesterday afternoon depicted the leader of Canada’s Liberal party in the early 1990s wearing the same kind of makeup.

Source: Global News/YouTube

Trudeau has faced criticism from his rivals, and was again contrite when addressing the matter yesterday.

“I recognise that it is something absolutely unacceptable to do,” Trudeau told a news conference during a campaign stop in Winnipeg.

“Darkening your face, regardless of the context or the circumstances, is always unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface,” he said. “I should have understood that then and I never should have done it.”

The fact is that I didn’t understand how hurtful this is to people who live with discrimination every single day. I have always acknowledged that I come from a place of privilege, but I now need to acknowledge that comes with a massive blind spot.
And for that I am deeply sorry, and I apologise.

Trudeau and the Liberals won a landslide victory in 2015, but are this year in a tight contest against the Conservatives led by Andrew Scheer.

Despite the political furor, Trudeau pressed on yesterday with campaign stops in Winnipeg and Saskatoon, ahead of the 21 October election.


Jagmeet Singh, an observant Sikh and leader of the third-place New Democrats, said the images showed a pattern of “deeply troubling” behavior by Trudeau.

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“People who have faced injury both from physical violence and words, people who haven’t been able to get jobs because of the color of their skin are waking up to see the prime minister of this country mock their lived realities,” he said, “in not just one but multiple images.”

“This is very painful for a lot of people.”

Scheer, who has been Trudeau’s most ardent critic, hammering him on ethics lapses, used the episode to once again call into question Trudeau’s fitness and “moral authority to govern”. 

Wearing brownface or blackface, he said, “was just as racist in 2001 as it is in 2019.”

He acknowledged also that the latest video of Trudeau was provided to the Conservative campaign, which passed it on to Global News.

With reporting from AFP

About the author:

Sean Murray

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