I'm less offended by Justin Trudeau's blackface than I am by his policies

Ahmed Twaij
Justin Trudeau asked the Governor General to dissolve parliament and begin the formal election campaign: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP

As elections loom, revelations from Justin Trudeau’s past — specifically times when he donned black- and brownface in an offensive parody of minority communities — have shaken up liberal Canada. But such discoveries came as little surprise to me from a man whose government has an appalling track record with minority rights and who has been accused of cultural appropriation while in office.

Faux-liberalism has engulfed international politics across the world as politicians seek to win over hearts and minds and counter the rise of Trump and Brexit-style populism. Trudeau, and other aspiring leaders, have consistently painted themselves as liberals while enacting disastrous policies with a smile. As a white male, born into privilege and political dynasty, Trudeau needed to appeal to Canada’s growing minority community in order to stay relevant. Race, environment, sexuality and gender issues all feature prominently in his speeches and campaigns — but they were merely approached as “check-box” exercises with few concrete policies to back them up, according to his former parliamentary secretary, Celina Caeser-Chavannes.

Trudeau, who from the outset painted himself (excuse the irony) as a liberal and devout supporter of minority communities, used this platform to win an election in Canada. But beneath all these proclamations lie a slew of controversial policies. Trudeau has been outspoken about his support of refugee communities, yet this April he introduced a bill making it harder for migrants to reach Canada. Much media hype surrounded the arrival of Syrian refugees to Canada; however, Trudeau concurrently supported airstrikes in Syria, perpetuating the creation of refugees.

Within days of Donald Trump’s election and reversal of President Obama’s barring of the building of the Keystone pipeline, Trudeau was at Trump’s side, signing an agreement for the pipeline which not only impacts the environment but destroys land of the First Nation population in the area. And applauded for a gender-equal cabinet, Trudeau’s government refused to approve electoral reform which would have given more women access to becoming politicians.

Similarly, after claiming to lead a radically transparent administration, Trudeau found himself riled in corruption allegations after helping Quebec-based construction company SNC-Lavalin avoid a corruption trial. His government was said to have pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould, the first indigenous woman to hold the position of Justice Minister, to support SNC-Lavalin, leaving her to resign and state the Trudeau government has “undeniable elements of misogyny.” Trudeau also made a campaign pledge of $2.4bn in aid to support education in First Nation communities which First Nation leaders say he has not honoured.

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Unearthed Justin Trudeau video shows him in blackface

There are shades of Trudeau-type faux-liberalism across the world. Hillary Clinton, for instance, ran a 2016 campaign championing inclusivity under the banner of “Love Trumps Hate”, despite supporting interventionism in Libya and Syria. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic presidential hopeful, has stood on a liberal platform while similarly proving himself to be weak on minority rights, through troubled economic policies affecting his city’s poorest, poor gun control and poor handling of police brutality against the black community.

On a global scale, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman flew across the globe selling his idea of liberal reforms, such as allowing women to drive, while simultaneously jailing women’s rights activists. His liberal reforms have provided sufficient cover for the death of hundreds of thousands of lives in a brutal war in Yemen. Such thinly masked pseudo-liberalism allows for the continued arms sales by western powers (including Trudeau’s Canada) to Saudi Arabia, as well as invitations of tequila from fun-loving Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson.

As a writer of color, I am less offended by Trudeau’s racist actions in his youth than I am by his more controversial policies — and the fact that many forget to criticize them because of his perfectly crafted soundbites espousing liberalism. It’s time issues such as race are not used as cheap points in elections, and the focus is turned to policies rather than rhetoric. If we learn anything from this episode, it should be that.