As It Happens

Jagmeet Singh says Trudeau's blackface is part of a 'pattern of behaviour'

Images of Justin Trudeau in racist costumes are just more proof that the Liberal leader isn't the person he claims to be in public, says NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. 

The NDP leader says 'this ongoing behaviour is backed up with policies that continue to hurt people'

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says we need to focus on the people most impacted by Trudeau's blackface/brownface scandal — Canadians who have experienced the trauma of racism. (The Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson)
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Images of Justin Trudeau in  racist costumes are just more proof that the Liberal leader isn't the person he claims to be in public, says NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. 

Time magazine first broke the news Wednesday night that Trudeau wore brownface and a turban at an Arabian Nights-themed party in 2001 at the Vancouver private school where he worked as teacher. 

Later that evening, Trudeau admitted to wearing blackface at a high school talent show while singing Day-O. On Thursday, Global News reported another instance of Trudeau wearing blackface in the 1990s. 

Trudeau has apologized, but Singh told As It Happens host Carol Off this reveals a pattern of two-faced behaviour by the prime minister known around the world for touting the benefits of diversity. Here is part of their conversation. 

Mr. Singh, is Justin Trudeau a racist?

That's going to be a question I think Canadians might have to answer, but I don't think it's actually the most important question, because whether he is or he is not doesn't change the fact that his actions have had a really serious impact on Canadians. 

I​t's meant that people who have gone through trauma and pain — physical, words, barriers — based on the colour of their skin or who they are are going have to live with that pain right now, and that's more important.

I ask you that, though, because you yourself posed the question: Who is Justin Trudeau? Who is the real Trudeau? And that's something that you say is now at the centre of what we need to know.

It's what Canadians are asking themselves, because they see a certain Mr. Trudeau in public who present themselves as very open to diversity and someone who says that Indigenous communities are important and the most important relationship. But then, in another life, he mocks people because of the colour of their skin.

And then in a private fundraiser behind closed doors, when activists demand justice for the poisoned waters in Grassy Narrows, he mocks them and makes fun of them.

This pattern of behaviour shows someone who humiliates people who are suffering. It makes fun of people who are going through pain. And that's something that Canadians are legitimately asking questions about.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says images of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in blackface bring up past trauma for those who have experienced racism. 0:42

And you're referring to that fundraiser where there was a protest from Indigenous people and he said, "Thank you for your donation" as a joke. 

I've been to Grassy Narrows and I've seen people shaking as a result of ... the mercury poisoning disease, and there's nothing to joke about.

And the fact that in the midst of a fundraiser surrounded by supporters he, instead of saying, "You know what, there's more work to be done," he thought it was appropriate to make fun of those activists demanding justice.

That, to me, is a really stark picture of who Mr. Trudeau is in private behind the closed doors. And it raises a lot of questions for Canadians who ask: Which one is the real Mr. Trudeau? Who we see in private behind closed doors? Who we see making light of people who face racism? Or the one we see in public?

Well, these are racist gestures. You're saying racist moments. But you won't go so far as to say that Mr. Trudeau is a racist.

I think it's the wrong question to ask. Because I don't think it matters if he is or is not labelled that. He has to answer for the impact that it's had on people.

I just met with a group of young people and I asked them what they felt, and they said they feel afraid. They say if the prime minister can make fun of us for who we are, what's to stop other people from making fun of us? Maybe this emboldens those who want to spread a hateful message, a violent message that they want to hurt people for being different.

Mr. Trudeau's intentions, it doesn't matter, because the impact is real. And any attempt to minimize or to maximize his behaviour doesn't actually do justice to people who are suffering. It has to be about them.

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)

And what about his apology? Is that enough? Because ... [Conservative Leader Andrew] Scheer has said about his own party members or candidates: Well, yes, it's OK if they've made racist or homophobic remarks, xenophobic remarks in the past as long as they've apologized for them, owned up to them. Has Mr. Trudeau made amends?

The apology is not one that I can say if it's appropriate not. It's Canadians that are impacted that are going to make that decision. But I think, again, the problem is that it's not an isolated incident.

He doesn't understand that people go through racism and maybe that's why instead of actually expunging the records of marginalized black and Indigenous and people of colour who face criminal sanctions because of minor possession offences of marijuana [and] continue to have barriers in employment and travel and education, he decides instead to do a pardon, which won't actually help those those folks out.

It shows that this ongoing behaviour is backed up with policies that continue to hurt people.

But it seems that no party in this election has a monopoly on this kind of racism. Mr. Scheer is dealing with it. Mr. Trudeau is dealing with it. Within the NDP, we interviewed Jonathan Richardson, the former NDP executive for Atlantic Canada, and he said that racism is an issue where he is going, that people were concerned, that he is concerned that you wearing a turban might affect the outcome of the NDP's election results.  Everywhere you turn in this election campaign, we're seeing the ugly face of racism. What do you make of that?

It's a real problem. It's something that we've got a chance to talk about across this country. There's a history of it. It's not something that happened yesterday. 

You have said that you will not intervene in the Bill 21 issue. It's a matter of Quebec. Can't you address this very issue ... by saying you will intervene, that you will protect the Charter rights of Quebecers?

I think about young people who want to be teachers who can't. I think about people who want to protect their cities and communities who can't become police officers, or want to uphold the law and can't become judges or federal lawyers. That is really sad. And it hurts me to see that.

I know there's a court challenge going on right now, and I don't want to in any way interfere with the court challenge. It's a very important challenge and I support the right to challenge it.

I'm doing my best right now as a turban and bearded candidate running for prime minister, going to Quebec and showing Quebecers that this type of law is divisive, that it does divide people and it works against the very fundamental of our society, which is finding ways to come together and find ways to celebrate our differences, in fact, and to find ways that we see the commonalities that we have that are far more than our differences.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.