OTTAWA – Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says that the three separate instances of him wearing either brownface or blackface makeup that have emerged in the last day are "absolutely unacceptable," and "really embarrassing."
The visuals coming to light have thrown the party's re-election campaign into major damage-control mode, with Trudeau admitting that he was "embarrassed" and had not previously come forward about his past actions.
Trudeau added he "had not remembered" all the instances that have surfaced.
"How can you not remember that?" he asked. "The fact is, I didn't understand how hurtful this is to people who live with discrimination every single day."
"What I did… hurt people who shouldn’t have to face intolerance and discrimination because of their identity, this is something that I deeply, deeply regret," Trudeau said in a live public address from Winnipeg on Thursday afternoon.
The bombshell news is dominating the conversation on the campaign trail, with 32 days until Canadians head to the polls.
"Darkening your face regardless of the context or circumstances is always unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface," Trudeau said, recognizing what he called as his "layers of privilege" that he said contributed him to not understanding at the time how deeply offensive his actions were at the time.
Already his political opponents are questioning Trudeau's leadership, saying he has "a lot to answer for," over what appears to be, as NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh put it, "an ongoing pattern of behaviour."
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is criticizing Trudeau for not coming clean about everything when he was first asked last night, and admitted his campaign played a role in one instance coming to light.
TIME reported Wednesday that the photo appeared in the 2000-2001 yearbook of West Point Grey Academy, a private day school in Vancouver where Trudeau was a teacher at the time.
The photo was taken at the school’s annual dinner, which had an "Arabian Nights" theme, and Trudeau has acknowledged that he was dressed as Aladdin. Trudeau was nearly 30 years old when the photo was taken.
CTV News has since confirmed a second photo of Trudeau from the "Arabian Nights" dinner. The photo was in the high school’s newsletter "View Point," in April 2001. It shows Trudeau in the same Aladdin costume, with his arms around two men in turbans.
CTV News has confirmed that this is a second photo of Justin Trudeau at the 'Arabian Nights' Gala, seen in the April 2001 West Point Grey Academy newsletter titled 'View Point.'
"I shouldn't have done that. I should have known better but I didn't and I'm really sorry," Trudeau told reporters inside his campaign plane, on the tarmac in Halifax Wednesday night when just the TIME image had surfaced. "It was a dumb thing to do. 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."
During his press conference aboard the party’s replacement plane, Trudeau also admitted to a second instance. When he was a high school student he "dressed up at a talent show and sang Day-O. With makeup on," said Trudeau, referring to a Jamaican folk song called "Banana Boat Song (Day-O)."
Late Wednesday, CTV News confirmed an image from the Montreal high school incident, printed in his Brebeuf College yearbook.
On the left, an image obtained by TIME magazine shows an image of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wearing brownface makeup at a party in 2001. On the right, an image confirmed by CTV News shows Justin Trudeau in blackface during a highschool performance at Brebeuf College.
Wednesday morning the Liberal campaign confirmed that there was also a video dated to the early 1990s showing Trudeau wearing blackface.
Trudeau has spent most mornings of this election campaign making a policy announcement followed by a media availability, today that was not the case. He didn't make any public appearances ahead of this afternoon's media availability in Winnipeg. Trudeau still plans to "deliver remarks" in Saskatoon this evening.
After Wednesday night's apology and admission of past racist acts, Trudeau said he will be asking Canadians to forgive him, and knows he has hard work ahead to demonstrate that he takes responsibility.
Overnight and this morning, Trudeau called leaders in different ethnic communities across Canada to apologize, as well as making calls to friends, colleagues, and his candidates, many of whom are people of colour.
One of the big outstanding questions is why these images and the video have just emerged now. Seemingly hidden in plain sight, it remains unclear how these decades-old visuals did not come up when he was being vetted as the candidate for Papineau, Que. in 2008, when he was elected to be leader of the Liberal Party in 2013, during the 2015 federal campaign that saw his party rise from third place to a majority government, or at any point over the last for years as prime minister.
Scheer camp leaked video
Trudeau was questioned Wednesday night about how these developments about his past could square with the fact that the Liberal war room has been going after Conservative candidates for weeks, pointing out past racist, homophobic, and anti-abortion comments. Responding at the time, Scheer said that as long as someone takes responsibility and apologized, he'd accept that.
Last night he wasn't willing to offer the same forgiveness to his opponent, nor was he Thursday morning speaking in Quebec.
"I believe that Canadians might have been able to accept his apology if he had have been truthful and open, if he hadn't based that apology on a lie but he was specifically asked if there were other instances where he engaged in this type of racist behavior, and he indicated that there's only one other incident and now we know that there is at least three," Scheer said.
In a rare peek behind the curtain of war room tactics, Scheer admitted that his campaign was previously aware of the video of Trudeau and had passed it along to a "responsible" news outlet for verification. Global News first reported the video Thursday morning.
"I can say, as it relates to the video, that a concerned individual who did see this video did bring it to our campaign and our campaign turned it over to a responsible news outlet for verification," Scheer said.
Scheer said he personally saw the video for the first time today, and last night was the first time he had seen the initial TIME photo, after the American news outlet published it. That story sent immediate shockwaves through racialized communities and through the federal election campaign.
As well, Scheer said that he has not dressed in a way that would have stereotyped or offended anybody's race or culture, but when asked more generally if there were things from his past that he regrets, he said he has never claimed he’s handled every situation properly and continues to reflect on how he can improve, without offering specifics.
Asked whether this was the time to apologize for his 2005 anti-same-sex marriage speech in the House of Commons, Scheer said he has already addressed this.
This image, taken from a video shot in the early 1990s and obtained by Global News, shows Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in blackface. (Source: Global News)
'A lot to answer for'
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, appearing on CTV's Your Morning, restated what was his emotionally-delivered message last night.
"Seeing the prime minister do this makes a lot of people question his sincerity, but really question their place, and I really want people to know, despite how hard it is, given those images, I want people to love themselves," Singh said.
In further public comments Thursday, Singh said it is difficult to think about shaking Trudeau's hand the next time they are set to meet face-to-face, at the Oct. 7 English-language Leaders' Commission Debate.
"I think he's got a lot to answer for, I'm also concerned that this is an ongoing pattern of behaviour," Singh said. His comments were commended by Scheer. “As someone who obviously has been victim to these types of things in a way that I never have, I think he responded with a lot of class and dignity,” Scheer said.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May tweeted that she is "deeply shocked by the racism shown."
People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier, who once said that blackface was a "non-existent phenomenon" said that while he won't call Trudeau racist, he accused him of being the "master of identity politics" and "biggest hypocrite in the country."
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet tweeted in French about the story, saying that while Trudeau is, according to a translation, "not a good prime minister," he is "not a racist."
'If we get that opportunity'
Reaction from Liberal candidates, Liberal staffers, and Liberal Party members continues to come in, as they respond to questions about how, as members of a political movement that emphasizes that "diversity is our strength" and inclusiveness, are reconciling the visuals that have emerged of their leader.
Reaction from Liberal candidates, Liberal staffers, and Liberal Party members are also emerging.
While some are acknowledging there is "confusion and hurt," and acknowledging that it was a "very bad decision," they say this is not a representation of the person he is, and that he is not racist, citing the Liberal government’s work on things like launching a federal anti-racism strategy, and routinely speaking out against discrimination.
"I am an ally, but this is something that obviously I deeply regret and I never should have done," said Trudeau, adding that he doesn't think it represents "the person I've become, the leader I try to be."
Trudeau also spoke Thursday about how systemic discrimination in Canada still exists and that there is more work to do to recognize past wrongs and improve the realities that people of colour in Canada face. This is now more work that he pledges his government would do, "if we get that opportunity."
With files from CTV News’ Sonja Puzic, Evan Solomon, Glen McGregor, and Ben Cousins.
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