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NDP leader Jagmeet Singh comments on the blackface controversy with Justin Trudeau in Toronto on September 18, 2019.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The blackface controversy involving Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is not about him but rather the Canadians of colour who face racism and have now been mocked by their prime minister, says NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

“They are feeling a lot of hurt,” he said in an interview Thursday.

“They are feeling a lot of shame. They’re feeling like they’re not worthy or don’t have value and they’re feeling like they’re nothing.”

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There are “many allies” who want to support Canadians affected by the images, Mr. Singh said, adding they need to know they matter because they’ve just been told in “very certain terms” they don’t have worth.

On Thursday, Mr. Trudeau apologized for the second time in less than 24 hours for using blackface makeup, but was unable to say how many times he has done this in his life. He said he had never talked about this, adding he was embarrassed.

Mr. Singh, a trained martial artist, called himself a “scrappy kid” and said he was able to fight back against racism he experienced.

“I was hurt when I was a kid,” he said. “I felt sad, I felt alone. I felt those things and I could think about so many people in my life that would be hurt by this.”

But he acknowledged not everyone is in a position to fight back, including a close personal friend who contacted him on Wednesday.

Mr. Singh said his friend had never shared his personal experience despite the fact the two had known each other for years.

“It was horrible what had happened,” he said.

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“He wanted me to tap into that emotion and understand people who can’t defend themselves.”

Mr. Singh would not expand on the details of his friend’s experience but said it weighed on his mind Wednesday night when he first publicly commented on the images of Mr. Trudeau and was visibly emotional.

“When I was speaking, I was thinking about him and how hard it was for him, as a little kid growing up, being treated so horribly because of his identity,” Mr. Singh said.

“I started thinking more about so many Canadians that can’t stand up to racism because they don’t have the means,” Mr. Singh said.

Mr. Singh also said he was “physically jarred” by the image of Mr. Trudeau that was published by Time magazine on Wednesday, adding he was first shown the picture after leaving a town hall event.

He also said he has a message to those who may be trying to minimize the impact of the images.

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“The reality is that what people go through is not something we can minimize,” he said.

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