Sept. 19 (UPI) — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized Wednesday after a photo surfaced of the former teacher dressed in brownface during a 2001 school event.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” he told reporters aboard his campaign plane. “I should have known better but I didn’t and I’m really sorry.”
Trudeau, 47, said the photo, published hours earlier by Time, was taken during an “Arabian Nights”-themed costume gala where he wore “an Aladdin costume and put makeup on.” The event was hosted in 2001 by West Point Grey Academy, where Trudeau worked then as a teacher.
The photo was published in the school’s 2000-2001 yearbook, according to the magazine.
“This is something I shouldn’t have done many years ago,” he said. “I take responsibility for my decision to do that. I didn’t think it was racist at the time. I now realize it was racist.”
Zita Astravas, head spokeswoman for Trudeau’s Liberal Party re-election campaign, told reporters that the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau attended the event with friends and school colleagues.
Publication of the photo came 10 days after Trudeau kicked off his re-election campaign that on Wednesday saw his party neck and neck with challenger Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party.
The election is scheduled for Oct. 21
The National Council of Canadian Muslims, which called on the prime minister to apologize after the photo’s publication, thanked Trudeau for addressing the issue.
“We thank the Prime Minister for his apology,” the organization said via Twitter. “Prime Minister Trudeau’s apology came less than an hour after NCCM called on him to apologize for wearing blackface/brownface.”
New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh called the photo “troubling” and “insulting.”
“Any time we hear examples of brownface or blackfacing it’s making a mockery of someone for what they live and what their lived experiences are. I think he needs to answer for it,” he said during an NDP campaign event. “Racism is real. People in this room have felt it. I’ve heard the stories. I’ve experienced it in my life. He’s got to answer those questions.”
Green Party leader Elizabeth May said she was “deeply shocked” by the photo and that he must “commit to learning and appreciating the requirement to model social justice leadership at all levels of government.”
Asked by reporters from his plane how he will reflect on the day, Trudeau said he will be thinking on how he can prove to Canadians that he wants to make Canada a more tolerant country.
“I’m going to be thinking about how much harder I’m going to have to continue to have to work to demonstrate to Canadians that I’m focused on building a better world with less discrimination, less intolerance and less racism,” he said. “And that this choice that I made many years ago — which was the wrong choice and one I regret deeply — I am owning up to and I am focused on moving forward.”