12/02/2013 07:33 EST | Updated 02/01/2014 05:59 EST

Joachim Stroink in hot water over blackface Dutch tradition

Halifax MLA Joachim Stroink has deleted a photo he tweeted of himself posing with the controversial Dutch character Zwarte Piet in blackface at a Christmas event on Sunday night.

In the Netherlands, ZwartePiet, or Black Pete, is Santa Claus’s helper.

The Liberal member of the Nova Scotia legislature said he never meant for the blackface photo to offend.

“As a child growing up and celebrating the Sinterklaas and ZwartePiet tradition, the blackface did not lead me to think less of my African Nova Scotian neighbours and friends, and as such I was not sensitive to the potential to offend,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Still, Stroink stressed that Dutch culture has long emphasized a black elf-like character as part of its Christmas tradition. 

“While the history of ZwartePiet and the blackface have contributed to perpetuating negative stereotypes, to ignore or to disavow ZwartePiet would be to ignore that history within the Dutch community," he wrote.

Members of the Twitter community took the newly elected politician to task.

“I'm Dutch too. I love Sinterklaas, but we've got to let Zwaarte Piet go. Surely you can see how this could offend,” tweeted Ben Diepeven.

“Traditions are also a great way to spread racist sentiment,” wrote Matt Neville.

“You can't delete the photo from my hard drive,” tweeted user @musekaltweet.

Stroink said he welcomes a community discussion about the Dutch tradition and blackface, but he refused an interview request.