U.S. President Donald Trump says he was “surprised” to learn Justin Trudeau wore blackface and brownface – particularly given that the Liberal Leader did it on at least three separate occasions.
In his first public comments on the matter, Mr. Trump weighed in Friday morning while fielding questions from reporters during an Oval Office meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“Justin. I’m surprised. And I was more surprised when I saw the number of times,” the U.S. President said. “I’ve always had a good relationship with Justin. I just don’t know what to tell you. I was surprised by it, actually.”
Mr. Trump, who has a history of racism and bigotry, said he was reluctant to comment. “I was hoping I wouldn’t be asked that question. That’d be you that asks it. You had to ask me that question, right?” he said.
The President has regularly portrayed Latino asylum seekers as violent criminals, said there were “very fine people” among a deadly mob of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., and told four congresswomen of colour to “go back” to other countries. He has not apologized for these incidents.
Mr. Trudeau has occasionally criticized Mr. Trump’s policies and rhetoric in the past. After Mr. Trump’s tweet about the congresswomen, for instance, Mr. Trudeau told reporters: “That is not how we do things in Canada. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”
There was some friction between the leaders last year, when Mr. Trump called Mr. Trudeau “weak and dishonest” for criticizing his steel and aluminium tariffs, but the disputes focused solely on trade. Since signing a renegotiated North American free-trade deal last fall, Mr. Trump has taken to regularly praising Mr. Trudeau.
The Liberal Leader has cultivated a personal friendship with Barack Obama, Mr. Trump’s predecessor and the first black president of the United States. The pair went for beers last May when Mr. Obama was in Ottawa.
Neither Mr. Obama’s office nor his charitable foundation responded to requests for comment on Mr. Trudeau. The Liberal Leader’s campaign refused to say whether he had spoken with Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump or any world leaders about the revelations.
Asked about Mr. Trump’s comments at a Toronto press conference Friday, Mr. Trudeau said he wanted to reclaim his place as a progressive leader.
“My focus is on Canadians who face discrimination every day," Mr. Trudeau said. “I will focus on continuing what I have tried to do as a leader, which is always stand against racism and discrimination at home and on the world stage.”
While Mr. Trump’s response to the revelations was muted, other voices south of the border were critical.
Rev. Al Sharpton, the veteran civil rights leader, said Thursday Mr. Trudeau should have disclosed his actions before seeking public office.
“If he wanted forgiveness, he should have said that when he was running the first time. He knew then he had done it,” Mr. Sharpton told TMZ. “What Trudeau has done has been disingenuous.”
Mr. Trudeau was also subject to mockery on U.S. late-night television, with jokes premised on the clash between the Liberal Leader’s actions and American perceptions of his country. “I just want to say: It’s not us this time,” Late Show host Stephen Colbert said. “Suck it, Canada!”
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.