Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized Wednesday after a nearly two-decade-old picture surfaced showing Trudeau dressed in an Aladdin costume in brownface. The picture dates back to a 2001 Arabian Nights-themed gala at West Point Grey Academy, a private school in Vancouver where the then-29-year-old Trudeau was a teacher. The picture was a part of the school’s yearbook that year but remained hidden until Time magazine surfaced the photo this week.
“This is something I shouldn’t have done many years ago,” Trudeau said. “It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist to do, and I am deeply sorry.” The photo arrives just as the incumbent leader kicks off his reelection campaign for the Oct. 21 vote in what is already a very close race. The photo was condemned by Canadian politicians on all sides, with opponents seizing on the incident as another example of poor decision-making by a prime minister who has faced ethics and personal scandals during the tail end of his term in office. In his apology, Trudeau said he had dressed in blackface on another occasion, while in high school during a talent show, where he sang the Jamaican folk song “Day-O” “with makeup on.” “Obviously I regret that I did it,” Trudeau said. “I’m pissed off at myself, obviously.”
Trudeau made headlines after selecting an ethnically diverse Cabinet after taking office that was, for the first time, evenly balanced between men and women. “It’s important to be here before you today to present to Canada a Cabinet that looks like Canada,” Trudeau said at the time. “Many Canadians are of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent, and Mr. Trudeau has four Sikhs in his cabinet. Those communities have been an important source of support for the Liberals and Mr. Trudeau, particularly in suburban areas around Toronto, which are seen as key electoral battlegrounds,” the New York Times reports. “But on a disastrous state trip to India this year, Mr. Trudeau attracted ridicule for wearing flashy silk and gold-embroidered outfits and pointed, red silk shoes. Though intended as a gesture of respect for Indian culture, it was widely seen in Canada as a cringe-inducing game of dress-up.”
“I’m asking Canadians to forgive me for what I did,” Trudeau said.