Blackface is never acceptable. Trudeau should have known better.

Image by: Amelia Rankine

Justin Trudeau’s choice to don blackface on several occasions was racist and unacceptable. The instances also illustrate a privilege the prime minister failed to recognize, even into adulthood.

Apologizing for these actions isn’t enough—Trudeau needs to listen to the communities his actions have hurt and heed their recommendations. Only then can he begin to atone for his upsetting and offensive behaviour, if at all.

On Sept. 18, Time broke the news that, in 2001, Prime Minister Trudeau had worn brownface at an Arabian Nights-themed party hosted by the Vancouver private school he taught at. Additional photos have since been released of Trudeau wearing blackface on two other occasions in the 1990s. 

Trudeau has crafted a public image of a progressive champion who supports minorities and racialized groups. These photos cast doubt on the sincerity of his actions and policies. 

As prime minister, Trudeau has proclaimed himself an advocate for many marginalized groups under the Liberal party banner. He’s vowed to prioritize Indigenous reconciliation, condemned Islamophobia, and formed Canada’s first gender-balanced cabinet.

But in light of his hypocritical past actions, when Canadians go to the ballot box in October, many will be left wondering how genuine Trudeau’s progressive politics really are, and whether he’ll be able to regain the trust he’s lost.

Canada’s electoral system has left voters even more conflicted over Trudeau’s scandal. When you vote for the leader that best represents your interests, you vote for a party—and vice versa. Liberal voters are now forced to consider whether they’re willing to overlook Trudeau’s past by voting for the party he represents.

Since the release of the photos, Trudeau has apologized for wearing blackface, claiming though he didn’t understand the implications at the time, he now sees his actions were insensitive and inappropriate. 

But given his role as a Canadian leader and world leader, simply apologizing for this type of behaviour doesn’t suffice.

While Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative party, said recently he believes an apology is all it takes for a politician to move on from past discriminatory behaviour, saying sorry doesn’t do enough. 

Trudeau should take broader political action to demonstrate he truly regrets his actions and has learned from the harm he’s caused marginalized communities.

Answering tough questions from the people he has harmed would be a starting point. The communities impacted by the prime minister’s actions know better than anyone what the appropriate course of action is.

It’s Trudeau’s primary responsibility—as both prime minister and a proclaimed ally of marginalized groups—to do whatever he can to rectify the rift he has created. 

If he genuinely believes his past behaviour doesn’t represent the politician he is today, he needs to prove it through more than words alone.

—Journal Editorial Board


Justin Trudeau, Liberal Party

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