Nanaimo-Ladysmith candidates say they’re “disappointed” following a series of photos showing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing blackface and brownface makeup surfaced this week.
Time Magazine first reported and released a photo of Trudeau wearing brownface in 2001 at an event at West Point Grey Academy, a Vancouver private school where he worked as a teacher. Additional photos and even a video reportedly showing Trudeau wearing blackface in the early 1990s have since surfaced.
Trudeau has apologized for his actions, telling the media on Thursday in Winnipeg that he “didn’t understand how hurtful this is to people who live with discrimination” at the time. He also said “I come from a place of privilege but I now need to acknowledge that that comes with a massive blind spot.”
Liberal candidate Michelle Corfield said she was very disappointed to see the photos of Trudeau. She said the photographs from nearly 20 years ago are not reflective of the person he is today.
“Am I the same person that I was 20 years ago? No,” she said. “I am a product of my experience and I hope that the prime minister is a product of his experience and I hope he can learn from this and move forward.”
People have every reason to be upset at the prime minister, said Corfield, adding that she hopes Canadians can learn from this incident. She said she heard his apology and believes he is sincere.
“He’s asked for forgiveness and in my culture, when somebody does that you have to accept that,” she said.
Corfield said for her, the focus of her campaign remains on the issues.
“We’re talking about affordable housing options, we’re talking about prescriptions, we’re talking the environment, we’re talking about equality,” she said. “I’m not talking about this.”
Bob Chamberlin, the NDP candidate, said he was disgusted and disappointed when he saw the photos, adding that they send the “wrong message” to Canadians, especially First Nations and minorities.
“I think what we’ve seen is there are two sides to Justin Trudeau,” Chamberlin said. “One that is private and one that is public.”
Paul Manly, Green Party incumbent, told the News Bulletin he was really bothered and upset when he saw the images of Trudeau. He said there isn’t an excuse for that kind of behaviour, even if it was nearly 20 years ago.
“When I was 29 in 1993 I knew blackface was wrong,” he said.
Manly said while conversations around racism in Canada are extremely important, he thinks the photos of Trudeau will shift the focus of the election away from other important issues facing Canadians such as climate change.
“It changes the dialogue of what is important in this election. We need to all be coming together to work on the serious issues that we face…” he said. “It’s not to diminish what the prime minister has done, because it is extremely disappointing.”
Alexander Netherton, political studies professor at Vancouver Island University, said images being released publicly are Trudeau’s and the Liberals’ “worst nightmare” come to life.
“It really puts into question his leadership and credibility,” he said. “Potential voters will likely begin a process of re-evaluating Trudeau’s character.”
Netherton said the Liberals went into the fall having somewhat recovered from the SNC-Lavalin scandal but are now in damage-control mode.
“During his ‘sunny ways’ campaign, he tried to unleash this set of better expectations for all of Canadian society, the problem is that he is not living up to it and his own life doesn’t live up to it,” Netherton said. “None of these things look good for the Liberals.”
Trudeau and the Liberal party have tried to appeal to a younger and more diverse group of voters in recent years, said Netherton.
“About 17 per cent of our population is a visible minority and about 30 per cent of those have immigrated here in the past 10 years,” he said. “So, this not good for the Liberals.”
Netherton said while voters will be questioning Trudeau’s credibility, they will also have a tough time assessing Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer’s character and moral compass.
“Scheer, kind of like Mr. Harper before him, about this stuff, [he] is not saying what he really believes,” Netherton said.
Whether the photos ultimately cost Trudeau the election, Netherton said he isn’t sure, but believes the possibility of a minority Liberal or Conservative government is more likely now.
“The only thing Trudeau can do is move on,” he said.
Conservative candidate John Hirst declined to comment and People’s Party of Canada candidate Jennifer Clarke could not be reached for comment.