P.E.I. Muslim Society, Native Council weigh in on Trudeau blackface scandal

Local groups on P.E.I. are weighing in with their reactions to news that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has worn brownface and blackface in three separate incidents in the past.

On Wednesday night in Halifax, Trudeau apologized for wearing brownface and a turban at a 2001 gala at the Vancouver private school where he was a teacher. 

He also admitted that at a talent show when he was in high school, he wore black makeup and sang the Banana Boat Song (Day-O), a Jamaican folk tune made famous by black American singer Harry Belafonte. A third incident, a short video from the early 1990s of Trudeau in blackface, has also since surfaced.  

'It's not a costume'

"As a leader, as a schoolteacher, you need to do more than just apologize, you need to do some cultural competency training, some sensitivity training," said Lisa Cooper, chief of the Native Council of P.E.I. "This is not OK."

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Cooper said she has a couple of problems with the makeup as well as the items Trudeau wore. When he dressed as Aladdin he was a teacher and had influence over youth who may have received the wrong message, Cooper said.

She said what Trudeau wore also mocked culturally-significant items. Cooper said the fact that similar incidents have happened at least three times shows that Trudeau's "morals need to be adjusted." 

"It was very stereotyping, it was demoralizing," Cooper said.

'Very insulting, very demeaning'

"My first reaction was that of shock," said Zain Esseghaier, spokesperson for the Muslim Society of Prince Edward Island. 

While Esseghaier said he felt Trudeau's apology was sincere and that he took responsibility for his actions, the discovery of a third incident of blackface has him confused, "I'm not sure what to think at this point." 

The third incident has Esseghaier wondering if there are more waiting to be discovered. 

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He said the number of years that have passed since the incidents happened doesn't make a difference. 

"We're talking about the year 2000. In the year 2000 people were aware of these things. We're not talking about the '30s or '40s. Having said that, people do make mistakes." 

Esseghaier agrees with Cooper in that the incidents send the wrong message.

"To make a mockery of people's appearances or the way they dress is very insulting, very demeaning." 

Sensitivity training

Cooper is suggesting increased cultural sensitivity training at all levels of government to prevent these types of incidents in the future.

"You always have to be mindful that these costumes or outfits, such as the one he's wearing, are something significant to our communities ... it's not a costume, it's meant to be used in special cultural ways," Cooper said. 

"To see people dressed up in something that might be cultural to us ... it's very offensive." 

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