Trudeau apologizes for racist makeup episodes, vows to keep Canada 'moving forward in the right way'

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized Thursday for at least three separate occasions on which he applied brownface or blackface as part of a costume, calling his behavior “unacceptable” but vowing to press on with his reelection campaign.

“This is something I deeply, deeply regret,” Trudeau told reporters in Winnipeg, adding that using race as a costume is “unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface. I should have understood it then, and I never should have done it.”

Asked whether he considered ending his reelection bid in light of the publication of photos and a video showing him wearing blackface, Trudeau was resolute.

“I will continue to do the work that is necessary to keep us moving forward in the right way,” Trudeau responded while acknowledging that the blackface photos might cause some voters to pull their support for him. “Canadians have an important choice to make on Oct. 21. I trust Canadians to make the right choice.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

Time magazine published a photo taken at an “Arabian Nights”-themed party in 2001 at a private school where Trudeau taught that showed him wearing a turban, his skin darkened with makeup. A second photo published by Time showed Trudeau wearing blackface in a high school talent show. A third instance emerged Thursday, when the Global News published a grainy video taken in the early 1990s of Trudeau laughing and gesturing at a camera while wearing blackface, a T-shirt and ripped jeans.

Asked if he was certain that other photos or videos of him wearing blackface would yet be made public, Trudeau chose his words carefully.

“I’m wary of being definitive about this because the recent pictures that came out I don’t remember. I didn’t understand how hurtful this is to people who live with this discrimination every day. I shared the moments that I recollected. I recognize that this is absolutely unacceptable to do.”

The scandal erupted one week after Trudeau, the head of Canada’s Liberal Party, kicked off his reelection campaign. On Thursday, he made the case that since being elected prime minister, he has learned to relate to the struggles of “racialized communities” in Canada.

“I have dedicated my service to Canada to combat intolerance and racism whenever I can,” the prime minister said. At the same time, however, Trudeau acknowledged that his own behavior was part of the problem. “I didn’t see that from the layers of privilege I have. For that, I am deeply sorry and I apologize.”


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