Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who’s in a fight for reelection — wore brownface while dressed as an “Aladdin” character at a 2001 event at the private school where he taught.
A photo of the incident came to light Wednesday evening, and the 47-year-old head of state admitted doing it, and apologized.
“I shouldn’t have done it. I should have known better, but I didn’t,” he told reporters on his campaign jet plane. “And I’m really sorry.”
Trudeau also said it was “racist to do,” and added that he darkened his face with makeup once before — when he was in high school and performed the Jamaican folk song “Day-O” in a talent show.
“I’m going to be asking Canadians to forgive me for what I did,” Trudeau said.
The photo appeared in West Point Grey Academy’s yearbook that year showing Trudeau in the costume as he stood with four women, none of whom appeared to have darkened their skin for the gala. Trudeau stopped teaching at the Vancouver school after the spring of 2001.
Exclusive: Justin Trudeau wore brownface at 2001 ‘Arabian Nights’ party while he taught at a private school, Canada's Liberal Party admits https://t.co/j3UobfYNIF
— TIME (@TIME) September 18, 2019
Time magazine broke the story Wednesday. The magazine reported it obtained the image from a businessman who was part of the school community.
The image emerged in the dead heat of an election between Trudeau’s Liberal Party and the opposition Conservative Party. Trudeau has also been nagged by a controversy involving claims he pressured his then-attorney general to drop corruption charges against a construction company.
Canada’s election is set for Oct. 21.
Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party, tweeted, “I am deeply shocked by the racism shown in the photograph of Justin Trudeau. 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. In this matter he has failed.”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims immediately called for Trudeau to apologize after the publication of the image and thanked the prime minister after he did so.
Mustafa Farooq, the organization’s executive director, described the image as “deeply saddening” in a statement. He added: “The wearing of blackface/brownface is reprehensible, and hearkens back to a history of racism and an Orientalist mythology which is unacceptable.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam faced a scandal earlier this year, when a high school yearbook photo of a man alleged to be him wearing blackface and a Ku Klux Klan outfit surfaced. Northam at first admitted to being in the photo, then later said he didn’t believe he was in the photo. He refused to resign, and is still on the job.
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