Should Canadians forgive Justin Trudeau for wearing brownface, blackface makeup?

What’s happening:

Canadians continue to criticize Justin Trudeau after three instances have come to light of him in brownface and blackface makeup.

“It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time,” Trudeau said in response to a photo of him at a 2001 Arabian Nights themed gala while he was a private school teacher in Vancouver.

“It was a dumb thing to do. I’m pissed off at myself.”

Since the original photo was released, another photo of Trudeau at the event was made public. There is also a photo of him in blackface at a high school talent show performance of the song Day-O. Additionally, Global News has released a video of Trudeau in blackface makeup.


“It wasn’t a good idea, it was a terrible idea,” the Liberal party leader said.

“It was something that minimizes and takes advantage of a reality that I have not had to live with, of being discriminated again, or being marginalized of being judged.”

Trudeau said his “privilege” comes with “a massive blind spot,” and at the time, he didn’t understand how harmful his behaviour was.

“It is something that people who live with the kind of discrimination that far too many people do,” he said. “I didn’t see that from the layers of privilege that I have and for that I am deeply sorry and I apologize”

Why there’s debate:

Directly following the release of the photo from TIME, Trudeau fielded questions from media asking whether he should resign from his position as Liberal party leader, or what exactly the consequences for this should be.

Trudeau said that he is taking responsibility for what he did and says this “calls for important conversations.” The Liberal party leader says he will still “work to fight intolerance and discrimination.”

“I always fought all my life against discrimination and racism,” Trudeau said. “It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time.”

Justin Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, led the enactment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, which explicitly protects Canadians against discrimination.

Throughout his political career, the younger Trudeau has emphasized his commitment to progressive and inclusive policies, fighting against issues like homophobia and injustices against Indigenous nations.

“This is certainly something I think my father wouldn’t be pleased with how I behaved but perhaps would feel that taking responsibility for things is important,” the Liberal party leader said.

Response from federal party leaders:

“What Canadians saw this evening is someone with a complete lack of judgement and integrity and someone who is not fit to govern this country” - Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer

“Young kids are going to see not just one or two but multiple images of the prime minister mocking their lived reality. This is so hurtful to so many Canadians.” - NDP leader Jagmeet Singh

“We have to model our complete adherence to the highest level of commitment to social justice, to condemning racism and hate. Had it been another candidate, the Liberal party would be now saying you have to step down.” - Green Party leader Elizabeth May

“I’m not going to accuse [Justin Trudeau] of being a racist. But he’s the master of identity politics and the Libs just spent months accusing everyone of being white supremacists. He definitely is the biggest hypocrite in the country.” - People's Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier

“Justin Trudeau has all the faults in the world, he is certainly not a good Prime Minister, he may not even qualify for the term "competent", but Justin Trudeau is not a racist.” - Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet


Yahoo Canada readers say the scandal does not impact their opinion of Trudeau as a leader.

Yahoo Canada asked readers if Trudeau’s past behaviour impacted their opinions of him as a leader. At the time of publishes, 59 per cent of respondents said it does not impact their opinion while 41 per cent said it does.

We asked the same question to our Facebook audience and 67 per cent of respondents said it does not impact their opinion of him as a leader, while 33 per cent said it does.

Trudeau’s previous behaviour should be evaluated against his more recent actions as the Prime Minister.

"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.” - Greg Fergus, Liberal MP in the riding of Hull—Aylmer

"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.” - Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna

“The person I know of Justin Trudeau for the last seven or eight years is a champion against intolerance and racism. Not just lip service, but with real deeds and real action. That is the Justin Trudeau I know. I can't explain those pictures." - Omar Alghabra, Liberal MP for Mississauga Centre to CBC News

Trudeau needs to face consequences for his inappropriate behaviour.

“If I don’t know it’s not ok to deliberately paint my hands and face in a colour that is not mine, there is something wrong. As a black person, as a woman, I don’t have that privilege. I don’t have the opportunity to paint my face white and dress up like an uppity Trudeau. I don’t have an opportunity to do that. Because you know why? I will never work another day in my goddamn life.” - Former Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes to The Globe and Mail

“If Pierre Elliott Trudeau was alive back then, he would not have allowed his son to do such a costume. It would show inherent racism, for communities in Canada that are marginalized, for communities that are trying to be included, for communities that face racism day-in day-out … to be portrayed in one form or another by someone who is the son of a prime minister … and now is a current prime minister.” - University of Ottawa professor Noor El-Kadri, President of the Canadian Arab Federation, speaking to CTV News Channel

“The question to me isn’t whether Justin Trudeau will survive this storm, it’s should he. And that is a question being debated among Canadians as we speak. Without question, this contretemps will cost the Liberals votes and cost them ridings, including Vancouver Granville, where Ms. Wilson-Raybould is running as an independent.” - Gary Mason, The Globe and Mail

“Had I been on the plane with the rest of the press corps I would have asked Trudeau this one question: what did you think of brown and black people when you were growing up? And I suspect the answer might have been something along the lines of ‘nothing at all.’” - Vanmala Subramaniam, National Post