BURNABY, B.C. — Less than two hours after taking a private call on board his campaign bus, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said “it doesn’t matter” what the Liberal leader said to him regarding old photos that surfaced showing Justin Trudeau in blackface and brownface.
“It doesn’t matter what he tells me. I’m not a proxy for the people of Canada,” Singh told a crowd of around 200 supporters at a town hall in Burnaby Tuesday evening.
According to reports from the bus, Singh took Trudeau’s call while they were en route to the meeting, and it lasted around 15-20 minutes.
The call came after a bombshell report from Time magazine last week which published a photo of Trudeau in brownface at an “Arabian Nights” themed party in 2001. Since then, two other instances of a younger Trudeau in racist makeup have emerged.
I’m not a proxy for the people of Canada."NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh
While he didn’t divulge the details of his call with the Liberal leader, Singh — who is Sikh and the first non-white leader of a federal party in Canada — told his supporters Trudeau needed to redeem himself to every Canadian hurt by the photos.
“I don’t think that he understands what people are going through,” Singh said. “The people of Canada who were hurt, they need to know that he understands.”
How did we get here?
Trudeau has spent the past week peppered with questions about the blackface and brownface incidents. After the Time report came out last Wednesday, the Liberal leader held a hastily-assembled press conference on his campaign plane.
“I made a mistake when I was younger and I wish I hadn’t,” Trudeau told the public. “I should have known better then, but I didn’t. And I did it. And I am deeply sorry for it.”
WATCH: Three instances of Trudeau in racist makeup have been revealed. Story continues below.
The story broke while Singh was in the middle of a town hall in Toronto. He was asked by a reporter to respond to the image before having seen it, and later returned to the cameras with a fulsome emotional statement directed towards those hurt by the pictures.
“I want you to know that you might feel like giving up on Canada,” he said. “I want you to know that you have value, you have worth, and you are loved.”
Following Singh’s remarks, Trudeau invited him to connect.
“I’m apologizing to him personally as a racialized Canadian, as I’ve been apologizing to Canadians who have suffered intolerance their entire lives in ways that some of us — like me — have never had to experience on a daily basis,” Trudeau told reporters Friday.
It was Singh who suggested the private call, repeatedly saying he didn’t want to publicly exonerate the Liberal leader or be part of the Liberal PR campaign.
During the town hall Tuesday, the NDP leader also admitted that he “felt pressure” to respond to the images.
“It puts a lot of pressure on me, because I feel like I have to represent a lot of people who feel like that was very hurtful,” Singh said. “And I feel the weight of having to represent a lot of people, but there’s so many people who go through so much and they need someone to stand up for them. And I hope that’s me.”
When asked if his call with Trudeau about the blackface scandal made him feel that the Liberal leader was unfit to be prime minister, Singh took the opportunity to lighten the mood.
“I don’t need to talk about the call to answer that question,” he said, eliciting boisterous laughter from the crowd. “The answer is no.”
In particular, Singh called out the supposed hypocrisy of the Liberals championing climate issues while buying the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Tuesday’s town hall marked Singh’s first appearance in Western Canada since the start of the campaign, and his first appearance in his home riding of Burnaby South.
Low levels of fundraising meant the NDP leader was unable to secure a campaign plane for the entirety of the writ period, such as the Liberals and Conservatives. Instead, a large tour bus emblazoned with graphics of Singh kissing a baby and waving has served as the campaign’s preferred mode of transportation. Singh is expected to travel in Metro Vancouver Wednesday.
Singh fielded questions and shared familiar talking points throughout the night, including the party’s position on universal pharmacare, daycare and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.