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The Liberal Leader has apologized for wearing racist makeup in the 1990s and 2000s. How have politicians, voters and the world reacted, and what does it mean for the larger Canadian conversation about race? Here’s what you need to know

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Winnipeg, Sept. 19: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau addresses media to apologize a second time for wearing racist makeup in the 1980s to 2000s, as shown in a series of photos made public during the federal election campaign.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The latest

  • Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau spent his first weekend after the blackface scandal erupted trying to move past it, shifting to economic pledges on the election campaign trail. Asked Sunday when he used blackface again after a school fundraiser in 2001, he declined to answer.
  • Mr. Trudeau has not yet spoken about the matter to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who he promised to apologize to in person. Mr. Singh, whose remarks since the story broke have focused on the harm and mockery felt by people of colour, says he will speak with Mr. Trudeau only if it is kept private and not used for political cover by the Liberals.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump – who’s been condemned before by politicians, Mr. Trudeau included, for racist remarks about Mexican immigrants, Muslims, African countries and people of colour in Congresssaid Friday that he’s “surprised” by the number of times the Liberal Leader has worn blackface. “I’ve always had a good relationship with Justin. I just don’t know what to tell you. I was surprised by it.”
  • Since a Time magazine story broke Wednesday about Mr. Trudeau using blackface in 2001, three photos and a video clip have emerged, dating from the 1980s to 2000s. Two photos are from an “Arabian Nights”-themed party in 2001 for West Point Grey Academy, a Vancouver private school where Mr. Trudeau then taught. The school issued a statement saying the gala “was organized by a culturally diverse group of parent volunteers and was intended to be celebratory and respectful,” but acknowledged “cultural sensitivities have evolved” since then.

The photos, and the stories behind them

The ‘Arabian Nights’ photos

On Sept. 18, New York-based Time magazine published a photo of Mr. Trudeau from the 2000-01 yearbook of West Point Grey Academy, a Vancouver private school where he taught. Mr. Trudeau, 29 years old at the time, is dressed as Aladdin for an “Arabian Nights”-themed school gala, wearing dark makeup on his face, neck and hands. The yearbook was supplied to Time by Michael Adamson, a Vancouver businessman and member of the Point Grey community. Mr. Adamson says he was not present at the party.

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Time/The Canadian Press

Another photo from the April, 2001, issue of the school newsletter ViewPoint shows Mr. Trudeau between two smiling South Asian men in turbans. Other white attendees are shown in the newsletter wearing turbans or face veils, but not black makeup.

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The Canadian Press

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ViewPoint, West Point Grey Academy Newsletter

The Globe spoke with people who attended the 2001 party, some of whom only recalled having a good time at an event featuring belly dancers, “Desert Breeze” drinks and what the newsletter described as an “exotic” meal. Wendy Valdes, then the chair of the school’s parent group, recalls wearing a sari. “We all had costumes on,” she said in an exchange over Facebook. “I think people are trying to make something out of nothing," she said, adding that everyone “loved Justin and the fun and energy he brought to our school.”

The high-school yearbook photo

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In his apology for the Time photo, Mr. Trudeau acknowledged a second use of brownface when he was a student at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, a private high school in Montreal. He says he wore makeup for a talent-show performance of Day-O (The Banana Boat Song), a traditional Jamaican folk tune made famous by Harry Belafonte in the 1950s. A picture from the school yearbook shows Mr. Trudeau with darkened skin, an Afro wig and and a patchwork jacket.

The Global video

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The day after the first photos were published, Global News posted a short video clip showing a young Mr. Trudeau in blackface, making faces and raising his arms, which were also darkened. Global did not offer details about where it was taken or how they obtained it. Liberal spokeswoman Zita Astravas confirmed that the video did feature Mr. Trudeau and that it was shot in the early 1990s.

What Trudeau has said

Shortly after the Time photo was published, Mr. Trudeau spoke to reporters on his campaign plane in Halifax to apologize for his actions:

I shouldn’t have done it. I should have known better. It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognize that it was something racist to do, and I am deeply sorry.

Watch Justin Trudeau's full Sept. 18 news conference in Halifax.

He issued a second apology at a Winnipeg news conference the next day, saying his privileged upbringing left him with a “massive blind spot” and he didn’t understand at the time how hurtful his actions would be. He also said he couldn’t be sure how many other times he had worn blackface in the past.

The party leaders’ reaction

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

Seeing this image is going to be hard for a lot of people; it’s going to bring up a lot of pain, it’s going to bring up a lot of hurt. Please reach out to your loved ones, please reach out to people who are suffering in silence right now. Please let them know that they are loved, and they are celebrated for who they are.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer

Like all Canadians, I was extremely shocked and disappointed when I learned of Justin Trudeau’s actions this evening. Wearing brownface is an act of open mockery and racism. It was just as racist in 2001 as it is in 2019. And what Canadians saw this evening is someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity and someone who is not fit to govern this country.

Green Leader Elizabeth May

I am deeply shocked by the racism shown in the photograph of Justin Trudeau. He must apologize for the harm done and commit to learning and appreciating the requirement to model social justice leadership at all levels of government. In this matter he has failed.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet

Justin Trudeau has all the flaws in the world. He’s certainly not a great prime minister, he may not even qualify for the term competent, but Justin Trudeau is not a racist.

People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier

I’m not going to accuse [Justin Trudeau] of being a racist. But he’s the master of identity politics and the Libs just spent months accusing everyone of being white supremacists. He definitely is the biggest hypocrite in the country.

Current and former Liberals’ reaction

Of the dozens of current Liberal candidates surveyed across the country, all stood by their leader, though some described the shock and dismay of seeing the blackface images for the first time. Some issued statements on Twitter saying they believed Mr. Trudeau’s apologies were sincere.

Mr. Trudeau faced harsher criticism from ex-Liberals who’ve left the Liberal fold over the past year. That includes Celina Caesar-Chavannes, a black MP who decided in March not to run for re-election, then said Mr. Trudeau reacted angrily when she told him so. She then quit the Liberal caucus.

If I don’t know it’s not okay to deliberately paint my hands and face in a colour that is not mine, there is something wrong. As a black person, as a woman, I don’t have that privilege. I don’t have the opportunity to paint my face white and dress up like an uppity Trudeau. I don’t have an opportunity to do that. Because you know why? I will never work another day in my goddamn life.
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Independent MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes leaves Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 2.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was forced out of the Liberal caucus after her testimony about the SNC-Lavalin affair, said at a Sept. 18 campaign event that she at first couldn’t believe the blackface photos were authentic:

It's awful. When I first saw [the Time photo], I didn't think it was real. But I will say I'm incredibly proud to be an Indigenous person in this country, one that has experienced racism and discrimination. It's completely unacceptable for anybody in a position of authority and power to do something like that.
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Jody Wilson-Raybould arrives at her federal election campaign event in Vancouver on Sept. 18. She was expelled from the Liberal caucus earlier this year and is now running as an Independent in Vancouver Granville.Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Voters’ reaction

Liberals and Conservatives have been polling in a dead heat since the election campaign began, and the blackface affair hasn’t changed that. In the Nanos-Globe-CTV tracking poll, the Liberals have been polling a little lower than the Conservatives since the Time story was published on Sept. 18, but well within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. In the Nanos-Globe-CTV prime ministerial preference poll, Mr. Trudeau was still ahead of Mr. Scheer as of Sept. 22, but within the margin of error.

Read the full methodology:

The day after the Time story broke, The Globe sent photographer Andrej Ivanov to Mr. Trudeau’s Papineau riding in Montreal to see how voters felt. Several said they believed the blackface incidents were honest mistakes, that Mr. Trudeau’s apologies were sincere and that the photos wouldn’t affect their votes. Below are some of their responses.

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'It's quite delicate,' Anne Hawolange said about the Trudeau photos from 2001. 'The apology may have been sincere, but we are in 2019, so we should know better.' She felt that the apology felt like it was an apology for the sake of an apology. 'It wasn't an apology for the act itself, more for the fact that it was discovered.'

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'To be honest, I'm not really mad at him because he was a kid and maybe he didn't know much,' Aimé Mugisha said of the 2001 photos. '... Things in the past should not be affecting you right now. We did some bad things back in the day that we are not proud of. I'm not judging him. I'm black too, but I'm not judging him.'

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'It was a thing for a gala, I'm assuming it was Arabic,' Harmeet Dhillon says of the 2001 photos. 'Obviously it wasn't the smartest decision from his part, but it was a long time ago. I don't feel any racism, on my side. It was an honest mistake. Hopefully he learned from it and moved on.'Photos: Andrej Ivanov/The Globe and Mail

The global reaction

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The Trudeau blackface affair was featured on the front page of British newspaper The Guardian on Sept. 20.Newseum

Stories about Mr. Trudeau in blackface have brought the otherwise overlooked Canadian election to front pages, homepages and TV screens around the world. On Thursday, Canadian academics and political journalists fielded on-air interviews with radio and television stations from Australia to the United Arab Emirates seeking context for Mr. Trudeau’s actions.

In the United States – where blackface has a long, ugly history dating back to the slave-trading era, and where Mr. Trudeau has been admired for his progressive message and friendship with ex-president Barack Obama – the blackface photos came as a shock to many. That included historian Julian Hayter the University of Richmond, who told The Globe that African-American admiration for Canada has been deeply ingrained since it became a terminus for the Underground Railroad of fugitive slaves in the 19th century:

We consider Canada as a racial utopia. Particularly among African-Americans, we romanticize Canada. We have come to expect a certain amount of sincerity from Canadian liberals. They have often been portrayed and acted above these things. It was shocking and disappointing to see Trudeau engaged in this behaviour, and even more disappointing that he kept this suppressed for so long.

Race and the election, beyond Trudeau

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May 27, 2017: Andrew Scheer, right, is congratulated by Maxime Bernier after being elected the new leader of the federal Conservative Party at the leadership convention in Toronto.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

If it seems like racism wasn’t an issue in the federal election campaign until now, that’s not entirely true.

For months, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has been fending off criticism that his party’s supporters include white nationalists and anti-immigrant groups, like those who appeared among the “yellow vest” protests against carbon pricing (which Mr. Scheer opposes). Mr. Scheer has said extremists aren’t welcome in the Conservative ranks, but has continued to face criticism over an aide’s past role in founding the far-right website the Rebel, and one of his candidate’s friendship with a former Rebel contributor. But the criticism pales in comparison to that faced by Maxime Bernier of the People’s Party, a former Conservative leadership candidate whose anti-immigrant message has found wide success on the chat rooms of Canada’s far right.

One of the major battleground provinces for the federal leaders is Quebec, where political tensions are still high over the Coalition Avenir Québec government’s ban on the wearing of religious symbols, like face veils or turbans, by teachers and public servants. Critics of the law argue it discriminates against Muslims and have been trying to ignite a larger national conversation about racism and the role it plays in religious discrimination. The law is facing a court challenge, but Premier François Legault wants the federal leaders to stay out of it.

Commentary and analysis

Elamin Abdelmahmoud: What Justin Trudeau didn’t answer about blackface, and the questions that went unasked

Editorial: And now, Justin Trudeau must face the voters

John English: We should judge all prime ministers by their present behaviour, not their past mistakes

Campbell Clark: There is one question this election many voters have: Who is Justin Trudeau?

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

Konrad Yakabuski: This is a permanent stain on Trudeau’s image, but will Canadians forgive him?

John Ibbitson: Singh may be the biggest beneficiary of Trudeau’s blunders

Simon Houpt: Trudeau has lost control of the image he built for himself

Compiled by Globe staff

Based on reporting by Kristy Kirkup, Michelle Zilio, Bill Curry, Laura Stone, Marieke Walsh and The Canadian Press

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