Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Apologizes for Wearing Brownface and Blackface

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing backlash after at least three incidents of brownface/blackface from Trudeau’s past emerged ahead of the country’s general election.

Trudeau apologized soon after a photo of him wearing brownface makeup was published by TIME.

Trudeau, then 29, was photographed wearing brownface, a turban, and robes during an “Arabian Nights”-themed gala at West Point Grey Academy, where he once taught. The photo appears in the 2000-2001 yearbook of the private day school, TIME reported.

TIME received a copy of the yearbook, The View, from Vancouver businessman Michael Adamson, who was part of the West Point Grey Academy community. The businessman did not attend the party, but after seeing the photo in July, he believed it should be made public.

Trudeau later acknowledged that he wore blackface makeup to sing the Jamaican folk song “Day O” during a high school talent show. The folk song was famously performed by Harry Belafonte, an African American singer and civil rights activist. A photo of that incident shows Trudeau wearing blackface and an Afro wig.

After the report was published on September 18, Trudeau spoke to reporters and issued an apology.

“I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better and I didn’t. I’m really sorry,” the prime minister said. Reporters also asked if Trudeau believed the photo was racist, and he replied, “Yes it was. I didn’t consider it racist at the time, but now we know better.”

Less than 24 hours after TIME’s report emerged, Canada’s Global News obtained a video showing the Liberal Party leader wearing blackface makeup while raising his hand in the air, laughing, and making faces. Trudeau’s arms and legs also appear to be covered in makeup.

The broadcaster noted that the video appeared to be shot at a different time and place from the two previous photos of the prime minister in racist makeup.

Global News independently verified the video before publishing it, confirming it was Trudeau via a senior member of the Liberal campaign.

Several political leaders condemned Trudeau’s actions and questioned his commitment to diversity in his government. Elizabeth May, the Green party leader, told reporters she was “deeply shocked by the racism shown in this photograph of Justin Trudeau.”

Jagmeet Singh, who is a Sikh and is the leader of the New Democratic Party, called Trudeau’s Aladdin costume “insulting.” He also questioned whether or not Trudeau is the same person in private as he is in public, The New York Times reported.

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

Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, Trudeau’s main opponent, said he was “extremely shocked and disappointed” at Trudeau’s actions.

“Wearing brownface is an act of open mockery and racism. It was just as racist in 2001 as it is in 2019,” Scheer said in a video posted on Twitter. “What Canadians saw this evening is someone with a complete lack of judgement and integrity and someone who is not fit to govern this country.”

Scheer has also experienced criticism regarding racism and homophobia. The Conservative leader faced backlash after refusing to eject fellow party members for their racist or homophobic statements. Scheer told reporters that he stood by those who “showed genuine remorse for previous actions.”

Mustafa Farooq, the executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, criticized Trudeau’s actions as well. “The wearing of blackface/brownface is reprehensible, and harkens back to a history of racism and an Orientalist mythology, which is unacceptable,” Farooq told The New York Times.

The photos came just a week after Trudeau launched his reelection campaign on September 11. Trudeau began his bid while mired in scandal over whether he pressured his former attorney general to seek a settlement in a corruption case involving a large Canadian engineering firm.

The prime minister, who is the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, has been a vocal advocate of minorities during his term in office. At least a fifth of Trudeau’s cabinet members are from ethnic minorities.

Canadians will head to the polls on October 21.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.