The House

The different faces of Justin Trudeau

This week on The House, we talk about Justin Trudeau's blackface photos with candidates, journalists and other experts. We also kick off our round of federal leader interviews with the NDP's Jagmeet Singh and PPC leader Maxime Bernier.
Justin Trudeau pictured in blackface from an event in 2001. (West Point Grey Academy)
Listen to the full episode47:32

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said today he'd be happy to meet with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to discuss racism in the wake of the prime minister's blackface revelations — provided the meeting happens in private and is not used for political purposes.

"His office reached out and I have indicated that I am open to having a conversation, as long as it remains private and I am not in any way used as a way for the Liberal Party to redeem the situation," Singh told The House. "That is for Canadians to make the decision."

Trudeau has been in damage control mode since Wednesday evening, when pictures of him in blackface were published by an American magazine.

Time Magazine first reported that Trudeau had darkened his skin with makeup and dressed in a turban with long flowing robes when he attended an Arabian Nights-themed gala in 2001 at West Point Grey Academy, a private school in Vancouver, B.C., where he used to work.

"There are a lot of people right now who are seeing the prime minister of this country mocking their reality, mocking their lived experience, and it's going to bring up a lot of pain for a lot of folks that's going to remind them of the insults they've heard their whole life," Singh told host Chris Hall.

"It's going to remind them of the physical violence they may have suffered, the barriers, and it's really those Canadians that need to be at the heart of anything that happens."

Trudeau said that he is onside with Singh in the NDP leader's efforts to combat Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance and is looking forward to speaking with him personally.

"I will be apologizing to him personally as a racialized Canadian, as I have been apologizing to Canadians who have suffered discrimination and intolerance their entire lives in ways that some of us, like me, have never had to experience on a daily basis," Trudeau said.

Chris Hall talks with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh not only about this week's blackface revelations and it's impact on the campaign, but also about his party's policy platform and the battle to not get outflanked by the Greens. 12:16

Former Liberal insider rips party over racism in its ranks

Trudeau apologized Thursday after three images and a video of him in blackface and brownface became public.

A former senior adviser in the Liberal government said Friday he wasn't surprised by photos of Justin Trudeau in blackface makeup because he encountered racially insensitive behaviour while working in the upper ranks of his government.

Omer Aziz said the photos of Trudeau are of a piece with behaviour he saw while working on Parliament Hill with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland's policy team. He quit the job in 2018.

"Sometimes a slip of the tongue is not just a slip of the tongue. It's a slip of the mask," he said to host Chris Hall.

"I basically had to leave my dream job because of racist prejudices that went unacknowledged."

Aziz said that while he worked in the department, he heard staffers referring to certain communities as "ethnic vote banks." He said he was assigned to "brown files" in the department — files dealing with non-white-majority countries — and was subjected to "whitesplaining" by colleagues who assumed he wasn't aware of certain cultural nuances because of his skin colour.

Trudeau has been forced to answer uncomfortable questions all week after three instances of him wearing racist makeup as part of various costumes surfaced online.

The images span about a decade and a variety of situations, and show Trudeau in blackface both as a teenager and as an adult.

"What I did was inexcusable and wrong and hurt a lot of people who considered me to be an ally and that was wrong. And I am deeply, deeply sorry," Trudeau told a crowd in Saskatchewan Thursday.

Trudeau has now publicly apologized twice — but he also has repeatedly declined to state how many times he may have worn blackface. He said he was "wary of being definitive about this because of the recent pictures that came out, I had not remembered."

A former senior adviser in the Liberal government said Friday he wasn't surprised by photos of Justin Trudeau in blackface makeup because he encountered racially insensitive behaviour while working in the upper ranks of his government. 7:44

Bernier plans to debate Scheer, Trudeau on taxes, immigration and balancing the books

People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier speaks from a podium at an announcement in Toronto on June 21, 2019. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

The leader of the People's Party of Canada says he will use his appearance in next month's English and French leaders' debates to challenge Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau on immigration, taxes and balancing the budget.

"These two are the same, so I will debate both of them," Maxime Bernier told The House.

On immigration, Bernier repeated his pledge to lower the total number of immigrants accepted into Canada to between 100,000 and 150,000. Under the Liberals, that number is expected to reach 350,000 annually by 2021.

Bernier said a PPC government would ensure there is a 50/50 balance between refugees and economic migrants, and bring back face-to-face interviews for people who want to come to this country to ensure they "share our values."

Among the values he named when pressed by host Chris Hall were the separation between church and state, gender equality and a free market.

Bernier said he'd save $5 billion a year by cutting "corporate welfare," including subsidies to major corporations. He's calling for a flat tax for all businesses at 10 per cent.

Bernier also said he'd cut foreign aid and balance the federal government's books in two years.

It's been just over a year since Maxime Bernier quit the Conservatives to create the People's Party of Canada. He has since moved the party from the margins of Canada's political scene to the national stage, an achievement cemented this week by an invitation to the French and English leaders' debates coming up in a few weeks. He joins Chris Hall for a feature interview. 8:41

Trudeau's apology: Widespread acceptance or skepticism?

Liberal candidate Gary Anandasangaree says he accepts the PM's apology. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal MP who chaired the parliamentary committee that consulted Canadians about a national anti-racism strategy said he accepts Justin Trudeau's repeated apologies for wearing blackface and other racist costumes.

"The key point is how do you address it after the fact and I think that's what the Prime Minister has done. He has shown leadership in saying, 'Yes that was me, it was an error, it was a mistake, I take responsibility for it.' He's not trying to appease anybody by trying to skate around the issue, he's very clear on the fact it's wrong. And, for me, that is enough," Gary Anandasangaree, who is currently seeking re-election in the Toronto-area riding of Scarborough-Rouge River, told The House.

But his support for Trudeau, which reflects how some people have responded to the controversy, including Canadians of colour, doesn't sit well with a pair of columnists who write about race and diversity issues.

Gary Anandasangaree led the government's charge to develop a national anti-racism strategy. So how does he feel about his leader appearing in blackface and brownface? And what impact will this have on his riding -- one of the most ethnically diverse in the country. 5:59

On Friday, the Liberal leader appeared in Toronto, flanked by his party's candidates in that city, many of who are visible minorities.

"I don't want to hear from his MPs. It's not for them to decide whether or not this is acceptable," said Erica Ifill, an opinion columnist for The Hill Times.

"I'm actually offended they think they can just just put some brown faces in front of Trudeau and say, 'Hey, it's Ok, there's nothing to see here.' That's reinforcing marginalization," Ifill said.

Shree Paradkar, who writes for the Toronto Star, said she was concerned the focus on Trudeau wearing blackface could take the public's attention away from larger, systemic racial barriers that affect many Canadians, including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

"Here is a rich white man who can just put on another culture and take it off when it's convenient, but his own rival not only cannot do that, but is discriminated for it and that is not a scandal," she said on The House.

"With this conversation, we're actually going a few steps back because now we're starting to say, 'What's racist about it? It's not just some ha-ha joke. It's what was used to justify lynchings, so there is a very serious background to blackface and nobody seems to be discussing that," Paradkar said.

Erica Ifill, an opinion columnist for The Hill Times, and Shree Paradkar, who writes for the Toronto Star, talk about the Trudeau blackface photos. 7:04

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