The B.C. man who supplied a yearbook photo of Justin Trudeau in blackface is a generous donor to Vancouver private schools and has described himself as an exporter and commodities trader.
Michael Adamson, who gave Time the photograph of the future Liberal Leader because he “felt it should be made public,” according to the magazine, also appears to have connected with the Time journalists because of his ties to Cornell University, in New York State.
The story has triggered a torrent of controversy, on the campaign trail and internationally, and led to other damaging revelations about Mr. Trudeau’s past affinity for blackface − behaviour that he has acknowledged as racist during public apologies last week. Since the publication of the story, Mr. Adamson has made no public statements, fuelling further questions about who he is, how he acquired the 2001 yearbook and his motivation for exposing an incident that threatens to sway voters in Canada’s 43rd general election.
When the Time story was published on Sept. 18, a Globe and Mail reporter spoke with a woman who answered a phone at a number that was publicly listed as belonging to Mr. Adamson. The woman said that the same Michael Adamson mentioned in the Time story was on the other line, but would call back. He never did and, the next day, the number had been disconnected.
Land-title records from 1994 identified Mr. Adamson as a “commodity trader” and more recently, in 2015, as an “exporter.” Incorporation documents show that he had been the director of a Vancouver-based export company, Kapt-Al Services Ltd., until stepping down in 2018. Kapt-Al marketed the products of a number of Saskatchewan companies that produced dehydrated alfalfa pellets, which are used as a protein supplement for farm animals.
Mr. Adamson has also been listed as a director of the Canadian Dehydrators Association, an industry group that, in 2002, sought and failed to secure a federal government bailout to help stave off losses from drought and a downturn in the East Asian economy.
No one answered the door at the two-storey concrete and wood Vancouver house he is listed as owning, a property recently assessed at $7.5-million with an unobstructed view of the city’s downtown skyline. That residence is also a short drive to St. George’s, an elite private school that calls itself “Canada’s World School For Boys.” Mr. Adamson has donated thousands of dollars to St. George’s over the past several years, according to donor reports.
Mr. Adamson and his wife, Hisami Kumi Adamson, have been fixtures on Vancouver’s charity gala circuit in recent years, according to Fred Lee, who has served as the master of ceremonies at numerous fundraising events and reports on philanthropy for several publications. Over the past decade, the pair have made public donations to a dental clinic at a local senior’s home and given to a school for children with autism.
“They are certainly recognized as generous benefactors to many charities in the Lower Mainland,” Mr. Lee said Tuesday. “In the fundraising world, any gift of $25,000 or more is considered a major gift.
“So they would be considered amongst those who are very generous.”
Federal and provincial databases show no record of Mr. Adamson or his immediate family having donated money to political parties.
(On Friday, after publication of this story, Mr. Adamson issued a brief statement to the public: “I am not and have never been a member of a political party. I received no payment for releasing this photograph. My decision to provide it to Time Magazine was motivated solely by the belief that the Canadian public had a right to see it.”)
St. George’s is a competing private school to West Point Grey Academy, the school where Mr. Trudeau was a teacher in 2001, and which held the Arabian Nights gala event where he covered his face and hands in makeup described by Time as brownface for an Aladdin costume. (Mr. Adamson did not attend the gala in question, but was part of the “West Point Grey Academy community,” according to the Time report. He told the magazine he first saw the photograph in July.)
But it is Mr. Adamson’s connection to another elite institution on the opposite side of the continent, Cornell University, that appears to answer at least one of the many questions in the wake of the controversy: How did a team of reporters from New York break a story of such consequence in Canada?
The lead Time reporter on the story, Anna Purna Kambhampaty, is friends with Mr. Adamson’s son, Bennet Tadashi Adamson. The two were peers at Cornell University, the Ivy League college in Ithaca, N.Y., where she was a member of a sorority, Kappa Delta, and he a member of one of the school’s fraternities, Delta Chi. On Twitter, Ms. Kambhampaty said she obtained the photograph.
Ms. Kambhampaty declined requests for an interview, but, as an undergraduate at Cornell, she wrote about her friend “Bennet” – both in a social-media post and in a piece for The Cornell Daily Sun, the college newspaper. In a piece published this May in the Sun, she described seeing indie-rock band Vampire Weekend at a recent concert in Buffalo with her friend “Bennet.”
Bennet Adamson did not respond to requests for comment.
In an interview with National Public Radio in the U.S. the day after the story was published, Ms. Kambhampaty did not specify precisely how she learned about the existence of the photo, despite having identified Mr. Adamson in the story as the person who supplied the yearbook.
She told NPR: “I’d heard about it as a source of gossip in [the] Vancouver community and, you know, contacted a source to see the photo and was sent the yearbook.”
During his son’s time at Cornell, Michael Adamson also become involved with the university, funding an annual scholarship for a student from a historically underrepresented background who is interested in studying architecture.
When Cornell’s department of architecture played host to 300 students, parents and other family members in Rome in 2017, Mr. Adamson was photographed attending with his wife.
Time declined to detail how Ms. Kambhampaty connected with Mr. Adamson. However, a spokesman for the magazine said in a statement: “The impact of our reporting is clear and has started important discussions.”
The Adamson family also owns property in Hawaii, with public records showing Bennet Adamson buying a US$4.2-million condo in April, 2018, that overlooks a seaside park just west of Honolulu’s Waikiki resort area.
In June of this year, someone who identified themselves as Michael R Adamson, and their wife as Hisami Adamson, posted on an online customer-service forum about how Air Canada had “totally misled” them about the quality of the plane during a flight in business class from Vancouver to Honolulu.
“The website where I reserved shows a clean and bright spacious cabin. What I got was a dingy, dark, claustrophobic environment,” the posting stated. “The website tells about ‘superior comfort, spacious seating, fine cuisine, carefully crafted wines and spirits and spacious seats with generous recline’ instead we were offered a dark, dingy cabin, a mediocre meal and salad and a desert that looked like it came from Costco.”
With research by Chen Wang, Stephanie Chambers and Rick Cash