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Canadian PM Justin Trudeau apologises for wearing ‘brownface’ makeup in 2001

The campaign of the ruling Liberal Party in Canada to return to power was thrown into turmoil with the emergence of a photograph of its leader, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, wearing a turban and with his face browned up for an Arabian Nights-themed party at the tony private school in Vancouver where he once taught.

As the #brownface” trend overtook Canadian social media and resonated across the world, Trudeau apologised for that transgression from 2001.

The damning image was from the 2000-2001 yearbook of the West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver. First reported by Time Magazine, it shows the then 29-year-old with his face, neck and hands “completely darkened”, according to the report. Even as that image of Trudeau as Alladin roiled his campaign, another emerged after he delivered his apology, in blackface while at the College Jean-de-Brebeuf in Quebec.

The yearbook, The View, was obtained by Time Magazine from a Vancouver businessman who wanted the controversial image to be made public. Such browning or blacking up is considered racist and holding minorities in contempt. Amid some calls for his resignation was leader of the Liberal Party, he expectedly drew sharp criticism from opposition leaders, including Conservative Andrew Scheer, New Democratic Party’s Jagmeet Singh and Green Elizabeth May.

Trudeau addressed the issue during an interaction with the media aboard his campaign plane, saying he was “disappointed” with himself, though such blacking up was not considered racist at the time, 18 years ago. “I shouldn’t have done that. I take responsibility for it. It was a dumb thing to do,” he said.

However, he also admitted to other instances of using such “makeup” including blackface and wearing a costume while singing a Harry Belafonte number – The Banana Boat Song. “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 adding he had “worked all my life to try and create opportunities for people, to fight against racism and intolerance, and I can’t just stand here and say that I made a mistake when I was younger, and I wish I hadn’t.”

“I wish I hadn’t done it, but I did it. And I apologise for it,” Trudeau said about the revelation that comes with just over a month left for the October 21 Federal elections in Canada. It also comes just as the Liberal Party had managed to regain ground on the opposition Conservatives, and part of its strategy was to attacking rival candidates for past mistakes and demand their parties remove them from the ballot.

The Toronto Star commented, “It threatens to remind Canadians of Trudeau’s disastrous trip to India in 2018, when he appeared repeatedly in elaborate Indian dress, which he has also called one of his larger regrets of his prime ministerial career.”