Manitoba

Winnipeggers react after Trudeau apologizes for brownface photo

People in Winnipeg had mixed reactions to a photo brought to light Wednesday night of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau dressed up in brownface and a turban in 2001.

'Many more important issues' facing country, says Islamic group director

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau apologized Wednesday evening for wearing brownface and a turban in a photo from 2001. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

People in Winnipeg had mixed reactions to a photo brought to light Wednesday night of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau dressed up in brownface and a turban in 2001.

Some were surprised to see the photo, which was taken at an Arabian Nights-themed gala at a private school in Vancouver where Trudeau worked 18 years ago. Some thought the costume was insensitive, and were glad to hear he apologized immediately.

Almost everyone asked by CBC Wednesday evening thought Trudeau should be allowed to move on from the photo.

Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of Winnipeg's Islamic Social Services Association, said there are more pressing things to focus on — especially in the midst of a federal election.

"There are many more important issues facing our country right now," Siddiqui said, adding that First Nations left without access to clean drinking water in northern Manitoba, or women banned from wearing hijabs to work under Bill 21 in Quebec, don't get nearly as much attention.

"Why are we not talking about these issues?" she said. "This is what I want to hear from our politicians. Not this below the belt, ridiculous, creating scandals out of nothing."

Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of Winnipeg-based Islamic Social Services Association, said she thinks there are more important issues to discuss as everyone focuses on the photo of Trudeau wearing brownface. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Others in Winnipeg mirrored Siddiqui's sentiment Wednesday night.

Winnipegger Ibrahim Chambu said while he thinks the costume was inappropriate, he doesn't think it's productive to focus on it.

"I don't think they should be be bringing this out right now, because it doesn't make any change," said Chambu. "I don't see it to be really meaningful."

Brian Jaramilla said the costume looked racially insensitive, but he felt he needed to give Trudeau the benefit of the doubt.

"I don't want to condemn him on that picture just like that," said Jaramilla. "It looks kind of racially insensitive, [but] almost everyone has some kind of dirt."

Eun-bi Kang said she thinks Trudeau should be able to move on from the photo, but it will affect her opinion of him. (CBC)

Eun-bi Kang said she doesn't want to focus on the photo, but she isn't going to forget about it, either.

"If he's apologized, then I guess he can move on from it. But it does affect my opinion of him," said Kang. "[I'm] wary that maybe these kinds of tendencies might pop up again in the future."

Some weren't as quick to accept Trudeau's apology.

"[It's] very insensitive and that's it," said Winnipegger Todd Gunnarson. "Words mean nothing. Actions prove."

And others said they're taking the situation as a chance to reflect on their own privilege.

"There are a lot of things to weigh in this election. That kind of behaviour is one of them," said Hannah Lyttle. "But I'm a white person, and so I don't have a full perspective here."

Hannah Lyttle said she's looking forward to seeing how Trudeau moves on from the photo. (CBC)

"I don't know how this actually impacts the people it's affecting because I have a huge amount of privilege. So when I see that, I feel like I have to listen more, and I want a prime minister who will listen more," she said.

Lyttle said she's looking forward to seeing how Trudeau moves on from the photo.

"It would be great if he could say more than, 'I'm sorry,'" she said. "It would be great if he could tell us how he has changed his perspective."

Siddiqui said she's frustrated by the attention given to the photo, and worries the issue is deflecting from issues like climate change, homelessness and violence against women.

"There is real racism. Those of us who are minorities face it every day from every system in our country. What are we doing to change that system?" said Siddiqui.

"If we want this country to be what we want it to be, then let's grow up."

With files from Erin Brohman and Holly Caruk

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