Trudeau, who is campaigning for re-election on October 21st, told reporters he “didn’t think it was racist at the time… but now I recognise it was something racist to do”. A yearbook photo of the incident, published by Time magazine, shows a 29-year-old Trudeau wearing a turban and robe, with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck.
He said it was taken during an “Arabian Nights”-themed gala at West Point Grey Academy, a private school in British Columbia where he worked as a teacher before he entered politics. The publication of the photo came between stops on the prime minister’s re-election campaign, in which opinion polls suggest his Liberal party faces a tough battle.
Addressing the matter to reporters on his campaign jet, Trudeau also admitted this was not the first such incident in his pre-political past. Asked if it was the only time he had “ever done something like this”, the prime minister replied: “When I was in high school I dressed up at a talent show and sang ‘Day O’ (a traditional Jamaican song about people loading bananas onto boats) with make-up on.”
The political reaction to the Time article has been swift. Andrew Scheer, leader of Mr Trudeau’s closest rivals the Conservatives, said that “what Canadians saw this evening is someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity and someone who’s not fit to govern this country”.
Also, Jagmeet Singh, leader of the third-polling New Democrat party, is a Sikh man who wears a turban. He told reporters: “Seeing this image today, the kids that see this image, the people who see this image, are going to think about all the times in their life that they were made fun of, that they were hurt, that they were hit, that they were insulted, that they were made to feel less because of who they are.”
The Green party leader Elizabeth May said Mr Trudeau “must apologise 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,” she said.