British Columbia

Langley Conservative candidate mum on connection to blackface performers

Performers playing the role of Black Peter have been part of the Sinterklaas Celebration in Langley going back a number of years.

Black Peter performers have been part of the Sinterklaas Celebration in Langley in past years

A 2013 file photo Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus, and "Zwarte Piet," or "Black Peter" in Hoorn, Netherlands. Black Peter is often played by white people in dark makeup. Supporters see him as a traditional children's character, while opponents decry him as a racist stereotype. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

An event attended by Cloverdale-Langley City Conservative candidate Tamara Jansen and hosted by her family business featured entertainers in blackface.

Requests by CBC to speak with Jansen were not responded to, however Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer did comment.

"To my knowledge [Jansen] herself has not [worn blackface] and she has not lied about it," said Scheer.

"I don't believe it's the same comparable at all to Justin Trudeau who personally has been shown to be conducting himself like that and then being unable to tell the truth to Canadians about it."

Black Peters shown in 2015 Sinterklaas Celebration photo taken at Milner Gardens in Langley. (www.sint.ca)

Photos of the traditional Dutch Christmas Sinterklaas Celebration at the Jansen-owned Milner Gardens started circulating on social media soon after images and video of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing black and brown face surfaced.

The Sinterklaas images are from 2015 and 2016 and show performers playing the role of Zwarte Piet or Black Peter in full blackface.

In Dutch folklore, Black Peter is Sinterklaas' impish helper who delivers gifts. According to some historical interpretations, the original Black Peter was Saint Nicholas' Moorish slave or servant.

Black Peter performers at the 2016 Sinterklaas Celebration at Milner Gardens in Langley. (www.sint.ca)

Langley resident Eruore Vese said he's tried to bring attention to the blackface element of his town's Sinterklaas event for years.

'Couldn't believe what I was seeing'

Vese said he was particularly upset to find Black Peter photos on the Sinterklaas Celebration website.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," said Vese. "This [event] is still ongoing in Langley as of last year and people I know go to it."

"When my kids were younger I tried to explain to them why they were [wearing blackface,]" said Vese. "My kids are mixed race. I had to tell them I don't know why."

Controversy over the Sinterklaas Celebration first reared its head in 2011 when the New Westminster Quay cancelled the event over complaints about Black Peter.

A demonstrator turns his back to the parade of Sinterklaas in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Sunday Nov. 17, 2013. Opponents say Black Peter is an offensive and racist caricature. ( Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

In 2015, the United Nations said the character of Zwarte Piet was "an expression of racism and discrimination" related to slavery.

In the Netherlands, the presence of blackface Black Peters in the annual Saint Nicholas parade has led to violent confrontations between those who support the tradition versus those who argue it is racist.

Parade organizer and public broadcaster NTR has announced for this year parade, Black Peters will have sooty faces only to reflect an alternative interpretation of a character whose face gets dirty from going up and down chimneys.

The Sinterklaus Celebration moved from Milner Gardens to the Cloverdale Rodeo grounds in 2017.

Recent photos on the event website appear to show Black Peter performers wearing full face makeup in colours other than black.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.