POLITICS
09/21/2019 18:16 EDT | Updated 09/21/2019 21:30 EDT

Jagmeet Singh Doesn't Want To Be A PR 'Tool' In Trudeau's Blackface Scandal

The Liberals say the conversation between the party leaders will be private.

OTTAWA — The Liberal Party pledged Saturday to keep private the details of any conversation between NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau about the blackface scandal that rocked the federal election campaign this past week.

Trudeau has promised to personally apologize to Singh, the first member of a visible minority to lead a federal party, after his re-election bid was shaken by the surfacing of images that showed he chose to put on black- or brownface as part of costume events.

Trudeau has repeatedly apologized, calling the act of darkening one’s skin racist, and said he remains committed to fighting racism and continuing to lead the Liberals.

A Liberal party spokesman said their office is still discussing the details of when the conversation would take place, and the spokesman said the Liberals would not be making the details of it public.

Singh said earlier on Saturday that he was still waiting to hear back from Trudeau about whether the Liberal leader is willing to meet his condition for a discussion about the issue — remarks that came during a full day of campaigning Saturday while Trudeau took a break.

Trudeau wasn’t campaigning Saturday and neither was Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, taking their first breaks since the federal election call on Sept. 11. Taking Saturdays off is common in federal elections.

It’s important to have dialogue, but I made the condition it has to be a private conversation.NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

Singh, meanwhile, held two events including a roundtable discussion on racism with Toronto community leaders. Many of the participants criticized Trudeau’s apology, while some expressed the view that they didn’t want his behaviour to embolden white supremacists.

Singh reiterated to reporters after the meeting that he would be willing to talk to Trudeau but that he wants their conversation to be private, and out of the media’s glare.

“I don’t want to be used as a tool to exonerate Mr. Trudeau. I don’t want to be a part of a PR process to say he checked off these boxes and, look, he made this call, and he’s all good. I don’t want to be a part of that,” Singh said while campaigning in Toronto. 

“I will always say yes. It’s important to have dialogue, but I made the condition it has to be a private conversation.”

Sean Kilpatrick/ THE CANADIAN PRESS
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau explaining a a statement 2001 photo of himself wearing "brownface" in Halifax on Sept. 18, 2019.

Singh was answering questions at his second campaign stop of the day after holding a roundtable discussion on racism with Toronto community leaders.

The discussion was open to the media, and some participants expressed the view that they didn’t want Trudeau’s behaviour to embolden white supremacists.

Singh said he wants to see a broader public discussion about racism in Canada, stressing that the issue is larger than one person.

“I’m worried, because as some of the folks here said, the conversation has been about Mr. Trudeau instead of about the impact on people,” said Singh.

That means people who have “faced violence, physical, words, barriers, economic injustice because of the colour of their skin, because they’re Indigenous, because they’re racialized. If we don’t make it about the people, it could be easily forgotten,” the NDP leader continued.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh comments on a photo from 2001 surfacing of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wearing "brownface" as he makes a statement in Toronto on Sept. 8, 2019.

Trudeau had to contend with global mockery on Friday, including from late-night U.S. comedians, as images of the three times he chose to put on black- or brownface as part of costume events continued to flash around the world. U.S. President Donald Trump said he was surprised by the images of Trudeau. 

Liberal candidate Catherine McKenna said Saturday that Canada still has credibility on the world stage as a climate change champion despite the controversy.

“The measure of a person and of a party should be based on what you have done, and whether it’s action we are taking internationally to tackle climate change and provide a leadership role at the table, or it’s action to combat racism or our announcement yesterday, that we would eliminate assault weapons,” she said.

“This election could not be more important,” McKenna said. “We have (a) Conservative Party and Conservative politicians who do not believe in action on climate change.”

McKenna promised to advocate for a ban on single-use plastics from federal government buildings, museums and parks at an event on the shores of the Ottawa River just west of Parliament Hill. The pledge was part of her local campaign as the MP for Ottawa Centre, and was not a plank in her party’s federal platform.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Liberal candidate Catherine McKenna appears in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Feb. 5, 2019.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2019.