Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau attended an Arabian Nights gala dressed in brownface makeup and a turban 18 years ago, according to a report by Time Magazine.
The article details how the picture of Trudeau appears in the 2000-01 yearbook of the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in Vancouver, where he worked as a teacher.
Time Magazine said Vancouver businessman Michael Adamson, who was a part of the West Point Grey Academy community, brought the photograph to the magazine's attention because he said he thought it should be made public.
"I can confirm it is him," said Liberal spokesman Cameron Ahmed in an email to CBC News. "It was a photo taken in 2001 while he was teaching in Vancouver, at the school's annual dinner, which had a costume theme of Arabian Nights.
"He attended with friends and colleagues dressed as a character from Aladdin."
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Trudeau's behaviour was "troubling" and "insulting"
"It's making a mockery of someone for what they live and what their lived experiences are," Singh said. "I think he needs to answer for it. I think he needs to answer the question why he did that and what does that say about what he thinks about people who, because of who they are, because of the colour of their skin, face challenges and barriers and obstacles in their life."
"Racism is real. People in this room have felt it, have heard this story. I've experienced it in my life. he's got to answer those questions."
Trudeau is expected to address the media soon.
A 2001 yearbook photo of Justin Trudeau in brownface, first published by Time.
A yearbook photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — his face and hands blackened by makeup — at a 2001 costume party detonated Wednesday on the federal campaign trail, instantly tarnishing the Liberal leader’s bona fides as a champion of inclusivity and tolerance and stopping the party’s re-election momentum squarely in its tracks.
Time magazine has posted the photo, which it says was published in the yearbook from the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in Vancouver, B.C., where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics.
Asked whether it was the only such instance, Trudeau admitted that during a high school talent show, he wore makeup while performing a version of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song (Day-O),” although he didn’t explicitly say the makeup was dark.
The photo depicts Trudeau, who was attending an “Arabian Nights”-themed gala event, wearing an elaborate turban and robe, his face, hands and neck blackened by makeup.
“It was a dumb thing to do,” the prime minister said during an emergency news conference on board the Liberal campaign plane before taking off for Winnipeg.
“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.”
He also said he’s been calling friends and colleagues to apologize personally for the photo, adding that he expects to be making more such calls on Thursday.
“It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist to do, and I’m deeply sorry,” he said.
“I have worked all my life to try and create opportunities for people, to fight against racism and intolerance, and I can just stand here and say that I made a mistake when I was younger, and I wish I hadn’t.”
The picture depicts the now-Liberal leader alongside four young women — his hands draped over one of them — in what appear to be cocktail dresses, none dressed as elaborately as Trudeau. The report describes the photo as having been the subject of gossip within the West Point Grey community.
Word of the photo ripped through the Liberal campaign bus like wildfire when the story broke, instantly changing what had been a convivial end-of-day mood. Staff members suddenly began talking frantically on their cellphones as reporters urgently called their newsrooms before snapping open their laptops.
So-called blackface images have been a frequent source of controversy in recent years, predominantly in the United States, where last year a number of prominent state politicians were forced to apologize for similar yearbook images that surfaced publicly.
But the image surely represents a crisis moment for Trudeau, whose political brand as Liberal leader and prime minister has been forged by themes of tolerance, inclusivity and racial harmony.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who was taking part in a town hall meeting when the news broke, said it’s becoming clear that Trudeau’s public persona may not be an accurate reflection of who he is.
“I think he needs to answer for it. I think he’s got to answer the question why he did that and what does that say about what he thinks about people who, because of who they are, because of the colour of their skin, face challenges and barriers and obstacles in their life,” Singh said.
“Who is the real Mr. Trudeau? Is it the one behind closed doors, the one when the cameras are turned off that no one sees?” Singh asked. “Is that the real Mr. Trudeau? Because more and more, it seems like it is.”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims wasted little time calling on Trudeau to explain the “deeply saddening” photo.
“The wearing of blackface/brownface is reprehensible, and hearkens back to a history of racism, slavery, and an Orientalist mythology that is unacceptable,” said executive director Mustafa Farooq, who later issued a statement thanking the prime minister for apologizing so quickly.
Before he did, Green Leader Elizabeth May described herself as “deeply shocked” by the “racism” on display in the photo.
“He must apologize for the harm done and commit to learning and appreciating the requirement to model social justice leadership at all levels of government,” May tweeted.
“In this matter he has failed.”
I remember this incident which was a big deal
What Justin did 15 years ago who cares.
What makes me laugh is that the people who defend Trudeaus actions almost guaranteed condemned the actions of those kids.
So now it's three incidents of trudie being a hoid.
Justin Trudeau is FINISHED as THIRD Blackface Incident Emerges!!!
look at the little racist trumphating retard...and his widdle friends.