TORONTO -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau moved to contain a growing furor Thursday after a yearbook photo surfaced of him in brown-face at a 2001 "Arabian Nights" costume party and two other similar incidents came to light.
With Election Day just a month away in his bid for another term, Trudeau begged forgiveness from the people of Canada.
"I have always acknowledged I came from a place of privilege, but now I need to acknowledge that comes with a massive blind spot," the 47-year-old son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said to applause from a large crowd at a park in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Time magazine published the photo Wednesday, saying it was taken from the yearbook from the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in British Columbia where Trudeau worked as a teacher before going into politics. It shows the then-29-year-old Trudeau in a turban and robe with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck.
"Darkening your face regardless of the context or the circumstances is always unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface," Trudeau said. "I should have understood that then, and I never should have done it."
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who is mounting a serious challenge to the prime minister in the Oct. 21 vote, reacted by declaring Trudeau "not fit to govern this country."
The prime minister, though, gave no sign at all that he might resign, and there were no immediate calls from leading figures in his Liberal Party to step down. Instead, many Liberals, some of them minorities, rallied around him.
He has long championed multiculturalism and immigration, with Canada accepting more refugees than the U.S. under President Donald Trump's administration. Half of Trudeau's Cabinet is made up of women, four are Sikhs, and his immigration minister is a Somali-born refugee.
Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, a Liberal who is Sikh, said that the brown-face picture was wrong but that Trudeau has a record of standing up for minority groups. Trudeau named Sajjan Canada's first Sikh defense chief in 2015.
Greg Fergus, a Liberal member of Parliament who is black, said there was a lot of confusion and hurt in the black community but noted that Trudeau apologized. And Fergus pointed out that it was Trudeau who put Viola Desmond, a black woman who refused to leave the whites-only section of a Canadian movie theater in 1944, on the country's $10 bill.
"I think the real measure of the man, and I think the thing we need to be talking about, is all the amazing things we have done for diversity," Fergus said.
Mitzie Hunter, a Liberal who is running to lead the party in Ontario provincial politics and is black, tweeted: "I know it is not representative of the man he is. This is a teachable moment for all of us. I accept his apology and I hope Canadians do too."
The photo of Trudeau was taken at the school's annual dinner, which had an "Arabian Nights" theme that year, Trudeau said. He said he was dressed as a character from Aladdin.
The prime minister said it was not the first time he darkened his face: He once did it while performing a version of Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat Song (Day-O)" during a talent show.
Canada's Global News TV network also reported a third instance, broadcasting a brief video of Trudeau in blackface while raising his hands in the air and sticking out his tongue. A Liberal Party spokeswoman said the footage was from the early 1990s.
Scheer said his campaign team received the video from a concerned citizen and passed it on to the media.
Asked how many times he has worn dark makeup, Trudeau said: "I am wary of being definitive about this because the recent pictures that came out I had not remembered."
He said that he has dedicated himself as a politician to "try and counter intolerance and racism everywhere I can," and confessed to letting people down. "I stand here today to reflect on that and ask for forgiveness," he said.
As for the brown-face furor, "I am deeply troubled by what this means to Canada. Young kids are not just going to see just one or two but multiple images of the prime minister mocking their lived reality," said Leftist New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, who is a Sikh. "This is so hurtful to so many Canadians."
Robert Bothwell, a professor of Canadian history and international relations at the University of Toronto, said he was "gobsmacked" by the development.
"That's the kind of thing you do when you are a frat boy," Bothwell said. "Maybe at 29 he had no idea that he was going to go on to greatness, but his father would have never done that."
He added: "The case has never been conclusively made that Justin is a person of substance. I mean, he may well be. But that impression is just not out there."
A Section on 09/20/2019
Print Headline: More images of dark Trudeau surface