OTTAWA — Canada’s first non-white leader of a federal party didn’t have much to say about the prime minister after a photo of Justin Trudeau in brownface surfaced Wednesday, but he did have a powerful message for Canadians.
The 2001 yearbook photo, published by Time magazine, shows a 29-year-old Trudeau in costume, posing with three women at Vancouver’s West Point Grey Academy at an annual event. The prime minister was a teacher at the private school at the time.
New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh said he was undecided about making statement in response to the brownface photo, but changed his mind after receiving a message from a friend.
“I want to talk to all of the kids out there, all the folks who lived this and are now grown up and still feeling the pain of racism,” Singh said, referencing the racism he faced growing up.
“I want you to know that you might feel like giving up on Canada ... I want you to know that you have value, you have worth, and you are loved.”
Earlier, Trudeau apologized for the racist photo, calling it a mistake. He told reporters that he was dressed up as Aladdin, explaining the white outfit, dark vest, and jeweled and feathered turban. The theme was “Arabian nights.”
“I should have known better then, but I didn’t. And I did it. And I am deeply sorry for it.”
Singh’s full statement below:
When I responded earlier, I hadn’t seen the image itself. And seeing the image, it jarred me.
And I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come out and give a statement. But I got a message from a friend. And I’ve faced a lot of racism in my life and I can be honest with you, I fought back when I faced racism. I fought back with my fists. But there’s a lot of people who weren’t able to do that.
One of my friends told me how he wasn’t able to do that. And seeing this image today, the kids that see this image, and the people who see this image are going to think about all of the times in their life that they were made fun of, that they were hurt, that they were hit, that they were insulted, that they were made to feel less because of who they are.
And I want to talk to those people right now.
I want to talk to all of the kids out there, all the folks who lived this and are now grown up and still feeling the pain of racism. I want you to know that you might feel like giving up on Canada. You might feel like giving up on yourselves. I want you to know that you have value, you have worth, and you are loved.
And I don’t want you to give up on Canada and, please don’t give up on yourselves.
There’s so many people in this country that believe in taking care of one another. I know that it’s hard to believe right now, but there are.
And together we are going to come together and take care of one another. So seeing this image is going to be hard for a lot of people, it’s going to bring up a lot of pain. It’s going to bring up a lot of hurt. Please reach out to your loved ones.
Please reach out to people who are suffering in silence right now. Please let them know that they are loved and they are celebrated for who they are.
With files from Ryan Maloney