With a History of Racial Caricatures, Is Trudeau Who He Portrays Himself to Be?

With a History of Racial Caricatures, Is Trudeau Who He Portrays Himself to Be?


Revelations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada has dressed up in brownface and blackface on multiple occasions have rocked his re-election campaign, reinforcing a narrative that has dogged him throughout his political career: that he isn’t really who he portrays himself to be.

Mr. Trudeau has long cast himself as a glittering spokesman for the world’s beleaguered liberals, standing up to President Trump, supporting gender and Indigenous rights, welcoming immigrants, and fighting climate change and racism.

But that carefully calibrated image suffered a major blow this week when photos and a video emerged of the prime minister dressing up as racial caricatures in the early 1990s and in 2001.

One showed him at an “Arabian Nights” party, dressed up as Aladdin in brownface makeup and a turban, his arms wrapped around a woman. The picture was taken while Mr. Trudeau was 29 and teaching at a school in Vancouver, British Columbia.

While apologizing for that image at an appearance on Wednesday night, Mr. Trudeau also admitted to dressing up in blackface while performing “Day-O,” the Jamaican folk song, in high school.

Then, on Thursday morning, more damaging material surfaced. Mr. Trudeau’s campaign spokeswoman, Zita Astravas, confirmed that a video posted by GlobalNews, a Canada-based news organization, showed the prime minister in the early 1990s dressed in blackface and an Afro wig. In the video, he is waving his hands around and sticking out his tongue.

And the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation posted another photo from the 2001 “Arabian Nights” party. In it, Mr. Trudeau, again in brownface and wearing a turban, has his arms around two Sikh men.

The disclosure of these episodes come only a few months after accusations surfaced that Mr. Trudeau had bullied his former justice minister and attorney general, an Indigenous woman, while pressing her to settle corruption charges against a major Quebec engineering company. When she didn’t comply, she accused him of demoting her.

“Justin Trudeau has carefully crafted an image of what Canadians aspire to: hope, openness to the world and youth,” said Jean-Marc Léger, chief executive of Léger, a leading polling company in Montreal. “The blackface episode shatters that perfect image and casts questions on his authenticity.”

Nevertheless, he said, Canadians were a “forgiving people” and predicted that Mr. Trudeau, who on Wednesday night apologized repeatedly for behavior that had taken place nearly two decades ago, could still recover.

Nik Nanos, the founder of Nanos Research, an Ottawa polling firm, said that finding a way back, while not impossible, will be very difficult for Mr. Trudeau and his Liberal Party.

“This is about as bad news as you can get in a campaign,” he said. “The Liberals have to find a way to change the channel.”



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