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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the media in Winnipeg on Sept. 19, 2019.

John Woods/Getty Images

Letters to the Editor should be exclusive to The Globe and Mail. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. Try to keep letters to fewer than 150 words. Letters may be edited for length and clarity. To submit a letter by e-mail, click here:

What readers think of Justin Trudeau’s apology for wearing racist makeup

Justin Trudeau seems to be asking for more than forgiveness regarding this brownface scandal. He is also asking for our trust.

Mr. Trudeau is asking first for trust that he did not know what he did was immoral. This is a lot to believe, and choosing to do so has many consequences. It would absolve him of much moral responsibility – he then only needs to be forgiven for the sin of ignorance.

Politicians, when caught doing bad things, often plead ignorance. They may explain their ignorance in various ways, such as being young or unfamiliar with circumstances, and so on.

I suspect that he did know and that he did not take the wrongness of brownface all that seriously. Not taking seriously the implications of actions that inflict suffering on others is a clear example of being raised in privilege.

While privilege sometimes creates ignorance of the suffering of others, it just as often engenders a conscious indifference to the suffering of others. One knows something is wrong, but does not really care. Or one knows something is wrong, but does it because it was fun to do. Conscious indifference enables one to put aside the suffering of others in order to do something that one wants to do – such as go to a party in brownface.

A person with conscious indifference may not really intend to offend anyone. But before deciding whether to forgive Mr. Trudeau, Canadians should carefully consider just what we are being asked to do. It strikes me as quite a lot.

Richard Feist PhD, Faculty of Philosophy, Saint Paul University; Ottawa

Apologists for Justin Trudeau pronounce that was then, this is now, or that such behaviour used to be considered not so offensive – though by whom, one could ask.

In fact, there have always been people who would speak out against racism, classism, sexism and other biases that result in the demonizing of others. History also makes clear that it is individuals and groups without power or privilege who are primarily the targets.

There is such a thing as unconscious bias in everyone that creates unintended harm to others. Those of us who are part of the privileged majority need to examine and work against our unconscious bias.

But what the Prime Minister was doing when wearing racist clothing and dark makeup seemed blatant. His response to the photos seems to lack an understanding of the harm he has caused, and an unwillingness to consider his racial bias of today.

Margaret Asch Victoria

How can Justin Trudeau claim that 18 years ago, at the age of 29, he didn’t consider that wearing blackface was racist, and now he knows better?

I am 73 and I grew up in London, Ont.'s East End, which was a far cry from the wealth and privilege that Mr. Trudeau knew. The area was so white and so blue-collar that country singer Tommy Hunter’s parents lived three blocks away. There was lots of racism and slurs about gays. My friends and I said some very horrible things as children. It was just the way things were in the 1950s.

I started to change my thinking in my early teens, and would have never considered wearing blackface by my mid-teens. No matter how the Liberal Party tries to dress this issue up, I don’t believe Mr. Trudeau should be leading this country.

John Pritchard Parksville, B.C.

About 48 years ago, in the cafeteria at Queen’s University, I made a joke. Then I saw the hurt in the face of an acquaintance. He wouldn’t tell me why. But he refused to associate with me after that. It took me a while to figure it out. He thought I was a bigot. I wasn’t. I’m not. But I was talking like one.

I stopped speaking that way. And though I barely knew him, I still think of Sam every time I hear that kind of slur. Our default is to behave the way we were taught to behave. The good news is that we have the capacity to unlearn the bad stuff. We collect scars along the way, and sadly, we sometimes leave scars on others.

Justin Trudeau is much younger than I am. And I’m still learning and unlearning – so I’m inclined to accept that he is, too.

David Grimes Ottawa

‘We all had costumes on’: Guests recall Arabian Nights gala Trudeau attended in brownface

It’s crucial to show respect to people of all cultures and backgrounds, and that involves not showing off by wearing costumes that serve to mock others. But if public figures continue to be so reviled for past mistakes and errors in judgment, how do Canadians hope to attract real human beings to serve our country?

Who among us can claim nothing shameful in our past actions? It is one thing if the reprehensible behaviour continues to the present, and quite another when a person is striving to hold themselves to a higher standard of conduct – and succeeding.

Bev Harris Courtenay, B.C.

Is there a statute of limitations on bad judgment? Or is bad judgment one of those absolute-liability offences for which we remain responsible for life? Does standing up in the House of Commons as a 25-year-old MP and warning against same-sex marriage mean that the speaker is forever against such unions and is thereby unworthy of a vote 14 years later? What about wearing blackface 18 years ago?

We say that people should be judged by their actions. But over the course of a lifetime, we mature and grow, and what we do matures along the way. When someone runs for public office, it is entirely fair that the entire spectrum of their adult life can be up for review. But the period I am most interested in are those of the past five to 10 years. Those words and actions frame the window through which we can look to judge a candidate’s character as it stands now.

If bad judgment is to forever preclude public office, the chambers in city halls and legislatures across this country would be half-empty.

Mike Winward Hamilton

Justin Trudeau then 29, is seen wearing dark paint on his hands and face at an event in Vancouver.


I am a Canadian-Iranian who grew up here. My family and I have experienced decades of racism. I do not consider these photos offensive. Calling every costume and action under the sun racist is very dangerous, because it muddles and belittles the true acts of racism, as experienced by minorities themselves. Justin Trudeau did nothing offensive. Silly, maybe. But not offensive.

Mahsa Zandi Montreal

As someone of South Asian and Muslim background, I’m not offended by what Justin Trudeau wore (although a 29-year-old teacher should have known better).

What I do find concerning is Mr. Trudeau’s hypocrisy. The same man who would likely be calling for Andrew Scheer’s leadership resignation if he were in the same position is now preaching forgiveness. He would likely not allow someone to run as a Liberal candidate if they had partaken in blackface even once. Yet it seems his own rules don’t apply to himself, because he was “too privileged” to know any better.

Mr. Trudeau needs to uphold the moral code he has set for everyone else.

Aliraza Asrani Toronto

When asked why he has never said anything about wearing blackface or brownface, Justin Trudeau said it was because he was embarrassed. When asked why he didn’t initially mention the third incident, he said he didn’t remember because he didn’t realize how important it was.

If Mr. Trudeau didn’t recognize how important it was, then what was he embarrassed about? It seems that he made a calculated risk that these pictures would never surface. But now that they have, he seems to believe he will be able to charm his way out.

Brian Snowdon Toronto

Justin Trudeau has inadvertently moved the Canadian populace into an open discussion about our ongoing existential question: “What does it mean to be Canadian?”

He has apologized and says he is taking responsibility for his past behaviour. Now we should openly discuss his inappropriate actions to clarify our understanding of what racism looks like, and how and where it exists in society. It must also be decided if this is about the leadership of a government party, or about the values that our society purports to uphold.

Hopefully, the outcome of this crisis will provide the answer we are looking for: that Canadians stand for inclusiveness, diversity and respect for all persons and cultures.

Where have we heard that before?

Diane Paget Toronto

What voters in Justin Trudeau’s riding think about the blackface incidents

Where have I seen a Canadian politician do something similar to Justin Trudeau? In a tape that surfaced from 1991, Brad Wall was at a Saskatchewan Progressive Conservative gathering where he made fun of soon-to-be premier Roy Romanow by mimicking a Ukrainian accent, all while laughing uproariously. Mr. Wall apologized when the tape came out in 2008, and to Saskatchewan’s credit, the media and political opponents had a field day with criticism before gradually letting the subject drop.

All people do stupid things in their youth. This could be said of Mr. Wall, the former Saskatchewan premier who was 25 at the time, just as much as it could be said for Mr. Trudeau. The outcry at his past actions is not my idea of a just Canadian society.

Linda Paul Regina

Justin Trudeau should read the transcript of then-Toronto mayor Mel Lastman’s press conference, where he was called to apologize for his statement that he feared going to Africa in support of Toronto’s Olympic bid because he might end up in a pot of boiling water. He said sorry, yes, 18 times: “I am truly sorry, and I’m going to say it again, I’m sorry that my comments were inappropriate."

Thomas Bonic Toronto

Political campaigns in Canada focus on the party leader. Now that the brownface photos of Justin Trudeau have surfaced, it seems the Liberal campaign strategy isn’t to protect the Liberal brand or its core values – it is to protect Mr. Trudeau.

This may mean some Liberal candidates will lose tight races. I wonder if an apology will be enough for them?

Daryl Gray Bayswater, N.S.

Memo to Justin: Who you are today is who you were yesterday

I don’t believe Justin Trudeau will be damaged by the revelation he wore brownface and blackface 18 long years ago. In fact, it could win him votes.

The dirty little secret of life in Canada is that racism infects almost all of us in ways conscious and unconscious. That some prejudiced security guards still follow black people around in stores is but one example. It mostly doesn’t bother us at all.

The truth few of us nice white folks would admit, even to ourselves, is that racism does not really offend us. It seems the racism that dare not speak its name, disguised as concern over immigration and refugees, is most appealing.

If it is likely some people may not vote for Mr. Trudeau’s party because of his blackface gaffe, it is just as likely some people will stick with – or switch to him – because of it.

Skip Hambling Delhaven, N.S.

Justin Trudeau’s apology jogged my own memories. I am 78 years old and all my indiscretions happened too many years ago to count.

But as a child, I played cowboys and Indians, dressing up with a darkened face and a feather headdress. Was I a racist? I didn’t know better, and I apologize.

On Halloween, I dressed up as Aunt Jemima, face blackened, bandana on my head and a pillow to give me a fat belly. I didn’t think anything of it, nor, I suspect, did my parents. I apologize.

Times have changed since I grew up, and we are now so much more aware of racism. I applaud our governments for being so open with immigration. It’s made us a more open and tolerant society. During this election cycle, I want to hear about what my government is going to do for me and all Canadians.

Judy Presant Thornhill, Ont.

A supporter held a sign that read 'Justin Trudeau is not racist!' as the Liberal Leader spoke in Winnipeg.

John Woods/Getty Images

This latest episode seems to have eroded any credibility Justin Trudeau has left in representing Canada on the world stage.

These photos have circled the globe and bring questions of how he can represent Canada when meeting with foreign leaders in the future. No one would take him seriously or pay any attention to him. He would be isolated and ignored. And then Canada would have no voice.

The issue is not only whether Canadians can forgive him and elect him – it’s also whether he can still credibly represent Canada abroad.

Larry Snyder Toronto

Just imagine the juicy headlines if past elections were held today.

"Sir John A. shows up in Parliament drunk as a skunk”

"PM Mackenzie King consults crystal ball to divine strategy for war, communes with dead mother and dog for their opinions”

“PM Wilfrid Laurier’s alleged mistress (and son?) seen strolling in Ottawa”

Julianna Drexler Toronto

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