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'I know how much he regrets it': Harjit Sajjan defends Trudeau's record in wake of brownface revelations

As minister of defence for the past four years, Harjit Sajjan has worked closely with Justin Trudeau and says he knows the Liberal Party leader regrets posing in racist makeup years ago — and has demonstrated during his time as prime minister that he is a strong advocate for diversity.

Liberal candidate says Liberal leader's policies prove he is an advocate for diversity

Harjit Sajjan says he understands Canadians will be disappointed over the photos of Justin Trudeau posing in racist makeup but, says the Liberal leader's policies indicate he is a man stands up for diversity. (The Early Edition/CBC)

As minister of defence for the past four years, Harjit Sajjan has worked closely with Justin Trudeau and says he knows the Liberal Party leader regrets posing in racist makeup years ago — and has demonstrated during his time as prime minister that he is a strong advocate for diversity.

On Wednesday, Time Magazine published a story featuring a photo of Trudeau in brownface and a turban, taken at a gala at a private school he taught at 18 years ago. Trudeau then admitted to also wearing blackface makeup at a high school talent show and, on Thursday morning, the Liberals confirmed another instance of Trudeau in blackface.

"Absolutely, those pictures are hurtful. I know how much he regrets it," Sajjan said in an interview Thursday with The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn.

The Liberal Party candidate for Vancouver South said he understands Canadians are disappointed, but said many people say things and do things in the past and don't follow up with action.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is shown in this 2001 photo published in the yearbook of West Point Grey Academy, a private school where Trudeau was teaching at the time. (Time.com)

He said what Trudeau did "was wrong then and it's wrong now," but his policies as a leader show his advocacy.

Sajjan said acts like welcoming 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada in 2015 and 2016, and appointing Sajjan, an Indo-Canadian man, to a high-level cabinet position demonstrate Trudeau's commitment to diversity. 

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer called Trudeau's behaviour an act of open mockery and racism and said he is not fit to govern the country.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Trudeau's behaviour was troubling and insulting.

"What we are seeing is not a one-off incident," he told The Early Edition in a phone interview Thursday morning. "I think the pattern of behaviour creates a lot of questions."

He said it will be hard for Canadians to believe the Liberal leader is sincere now when he talks about multiculturalism and diversity, because he has been mocking people's lived experiences and pain.

Singh said he faced a lot of racism growing up and is concerned that the images of Trudeau in racist makeup could be bringing up painful memories and causing others who have been racially discriminated against to relive past traumas.

Sajjan told Quinn that hate crimes are on the rise in Canada. He said the current climate means leaders must pay more than lip service to past mistakes and that Trudeau has shown him, both in the private and public sphere, that he "constantly stands up."

To hear the complete interview with Harjit Sajjan, click on the audio link below:

With files from The Early Edition

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