Local Liberals standing by Trudeau amid blackface scandal

Local Liberals standing by Trudeau amid blackface scandal

Liberal candidates in the National Capital Region are standing by Justin Trudeau after photos of the Liberal leader in blackface emerged Wednesday night.

On Thursday morning in Ottawa, Catherine McKenna, Greg Fergus and Will Amos attended a previously scheduled campaign announcement, where they promised to push for the transformation of the Prince of Wales rail bridge into a pedestrian and cycling crossing. 

But reporters who attended were more interested in the political fallout over the photos, one of which shows Trudeau appearing in brownface and a turban at a school gala in 2001.

Fergus, a black member of the Liberal caucus, said Trudeau called him Wednesday evening before the story broke to let him know what was coming.

'People are going to hurt'

"I told him, 'prime minister, people are going to hurt,'" Fergus said.

Nevertheless, Fergus, who was elected in Hull–Aylmer in 2015, said he believes Trudeau will be forgiven. 

"I've had conversations with members of the black community from across the country. I think people are willing to cut him some slack and forgive him because he has a track record, because he's shown what he has done when he's had the opportunity to improve the lives of black Canadians and people from all backgrounds," Fergus said.

"I'm certain he was embarrassed of that, ashamed of it, but he has taken steps to demonstrate how he has moved on from that and he's woken up to the whole notion of what privilege is."

Giacomo Panico/CBC

'The measures of the man'

Asked if he would be so quick to forgive a political opponent under similar circumstances, Fergus said such a decision should be made on a case-by-case basis and based on what that person has done and said when given the opportunity to address racism.  

Fergus said Trudeau has proven himself as someone who fights racial discrimination, as demonstrated by the diversity of his cabinet, his government's investment in the black community and his push to have Viola Desmond's image appear on the new $10 bill.

"I believe those are the measure of the man, and that's why I have confidence in his continuing leadership," Fergus said. "I think this is one of those occasions that's a teachable moment."

Ottawa Centre candidate Catherine McKenna, who's also running for re-election, said she, too, is ready to forgive Trudeau's past mistakes.

"Did the prime minister make a mistake? Yes. And it was really important that he immediately acknowledge that, and we all have to acknowledge that some people are hurt, including people on my team," McKenna said.

Giacomo Panico/CBC

'Honest mistake of a good man'

Speaking later Thursday at his campaign office, Nepean candidate Chandra Arya said he sincerely believed Trudeau's behaviour in 2001 was an "honest mistake of a good man."

"I have seen him for four years. I have seen how much he believes in diversity," said Arya, who is seeking a second term as the riding's MP.

"My feeling is that he didn't understand the implications of what he did then. He didn't understand that it does offend people."

Arya said the Liberal leader's apology during a conference call with federal candidates was enough for him.

"[In] his voice, I could feel that feeling — a very genuine feeling that, 'I did wrong, I'm sorry.'"