OTTAWA, Canada — Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is asking for forgiveness in the middle of his reelection campaign after a photo of him wearing brownface was made public. But the leader of the New Democratic Party slammed the prime minister for the 2001 image, calling it “troubling” and “insulting.”
“It’s making a mockery of someone for what they live and what their lived experiences are,” said party leader Jagmeet Singh. “I think he needs to answer for it.”
The picture, published in a Time magazine article online, appears in a 2001 yearbook from a private school where Trudeau used to teach. He said the costume was from a party with an “Arabian Nights” theme.
“This was something that was unacceptable and yes, racist,” Trudeau said, adding that he’s “deeply sorry” for the photo.
“I take responsibility for my decision to do that,” the prime minister added. “I shouldn’t have done it, I should’ve known better.”
Trudeau also admitted he wore brownface as a high school student. An additional photo appears to confirm his story that he used dark makeup to imitate singer Harry Belafonte at a talent show.
Trudeau has built his political reputation on the promotion of freedom and diversity in Canada. With Canada’s federal election just over a month away, the fallout could cast a shadow over Trudeau’s campaign. When asked why he didn’t mention the photo earlier, Trudeau said “I’m talking about it now.”
Trudeau isn’t the first politician to be called out as racist for wearing dark makeup. Among them is Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who talked about the controversy with “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King in February.
“The man you’re looking at and talking to right now is not who I was,” Northam told King.
As a leader on the international stage, Trudeau said his focus is now moving forward.
“I think what is important is that, yes, people get challenged on mistakes they’ve made in the past, that they recognize those mistakes, and they pledge to do better,” Trudeau said. “That’s what we expect of people.”
When asked by reporters if he would resign from office, Trudeau did not offer a direct response. In a statement, Conservative Party and official opposition leader Andrew Scheer said Trudeau is “not fit to govern.”