Politics

Trudeau calls Singh to discuss blackface photos

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh spoke to Justin Trudeau Tuesday about the Liberal leader's past appearances in blackface that emerged last week.

NDP leader said last week he was open to hearing from Trudeau - but would not be 'a tool in his exoneration'

Justin Trudeau, left, spoke to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh about his past appearances in blackface in a private phone call on Tuesday. (The Canadian Press)

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has spoken to Justin Trudeau about the Liberal leader's past appearances in blackface that emerged last week.

Singh received the private call from Trudeau as the NDP bus headed to Burnaby, B.C., for a campaign event Tuesday evening.

Trudeau was forced to apologize repeatedly last week after Time magazine published a photo of him in brownface — wearing an Aladdin costume with his face, hands and arms darkened — at an Arabian Nights-themed gala when he was a teacher at a private school in B.C. in 2001. Trudeau admitted at the time to wearing blackface on an earlier occasion at a talent show in high school, an event captured in a yearbook photo.

The next day, a video published by Global News showed him in blackface again at a summer rafting camp in the 1990s.

The Liberals said on Friday that Trudeau wanted to reach out to Singh, the first visible minority federal leader in Canada, to apologize personally for his behaviour.

Reporters riding at the front of the NDP bus Tuesday did not hear the exchange and were told about it after the fact. The party did not share any details but said the call lasted 15 to 20 minutes. In a statement, the Liberal Party said it was a "private conversation."

Singh, who spoke last week about the pain that racialized Canadians would feel when seeing the photos of the prime minister in blackface, said he would be willing to take the call, but only if it were private and were not used for political purposes.

At a town hall later Tuesday evening, Singh was asked about the call with Trudeau.

"Mr. Trudeau did call me. We did have a chat. I said that I wanted to keep the conversation private because I didn't want to be used as a tool in his exoneration," Singh said. "But I also want to make it clear, it doesn't matter if he tells me anything. I'm not a proxy for the people of Canada." 

"The people of Canada were hurt, they need to know that he understands. The people in Canada feel like he doesn't see the struggles they go through, that he ignores those struggles, and his policy decisions ignore those struggles," Singh said. 

"They need to know he cares."

with files from Ashley Burke and Salimah Shivji

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