Just days after Justin Trudeau faced criticism about his blackface scandal at the federal leaders debate on Monday, the prime minister took questions about the incidents from Canada’s future leaders: its children.
In a new episode of Canadian TV personality Jessi Cruickshank’s show “New Mom, Who Dis?” Trudeau sat down with several kids to answer their hard-hitting Qs.
One Black girl asked him: “Why did you paint your face brown?”
Trudeau answered: “It was something I shouldn’t have done, ’cause it hurt people. And that is something that I learnt. I didn’t know it back then but I know it now. And I’m sorry I hurt people.”
To this, the girl replied, “But did you paint your [unintelligible] and hands brown?”
Trudeau replied, “Yeah. And it was the wrong thing to do. And I had a good conversation with my kids around taking responsibility for mistakes and making sure that we’re always sticking up for each other and not teasing each other and being respectful towards each other.
“And I’m sorry that I hurt you as well. I’m sorry that I hurt kids who get, you know, face teasing and discrimination because of the colour of their skin. That’s just not right, we all have to work together to make sure that doesn’t happen, OK?”
The moment was one of the few times Trudeau has addressed the blackface scandal in public. On Monday, the prime minister took the stage with five other federal leaders for the debate, where Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer attacked Trudeau for appearing in blackface several times.
“Justin Trudeau only pretends to stand up for Canada,” Scheer said. “You know, he’s very good at pretending things. He can’t even remember how many times he put blackface on because the fact of the matter is he’s always wearing a mask.”
WATCH: How Canadians can acknowledge our country’s racism. Story continues below.
Last month, the Liberal leader apologized for images and video of himself wearing black- and brownface in the early 1990s and in 2001.
“Darkening your face, regardless of the context or the circumstances, is... unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface,” Trudeau said. “I should have understood that then and I never should have done it.”
How parents, their kids have reacted
Canadian parents and their children have had mixed reactions to the revelations that rocked Trudeau’s election campaign.
“I didn’t have any reaction to it,” 72-year-old Mohinder Singh Bains previously told HuffPost Canada. “It’s not really a scandal.”
His daughter, Manjot Bains, 39, however, said she was shocked by the photos. “It didn’t connect with who I thought Trudeau is,” she told HuffPost Canada. “For anyone to even do that, whether it’s 2001, 1990 or right now, that doesn’t make any sense to me.”
For parents with younger kids, the blackface scandal has given them the opportunity to talk to their children about the racism behind the images.
“I don’t want to have to show my children these images and videos, but I’m going to because I think they really need to see and understand what a) privilege looks like, and b) how using that privilege to mock or belittle others is so wrong,” parenting writer, media commentator, and mom of four Samantha Kemp-Jackson previously told HuffPost Canada.
“I want them to be aware that our actions have consequences.”
Kisha McPherson, a social science and humanities professor at Centennial College and PhD candidate in Education at York University, previously told HuffPost that it’s important for adults and kids to acknowledge Canada’s history of racism.
“What we should be saying to our children is the truth — the history of racism and oppression in this country will continue to have devastating consequences until the system deals with it,” she said.
“We have a system that teaches young white kids, specifically, that they hold the power.”
Trudeau, too, had to talk to his three children, Xavier (age 11), Ella-Grace (age 10), and Hadrien (age 5), about his actions.
“I’m going to have a conversation with them tomorrow morning before they go to school about taking responsibility for mistakes we make, about living up every day to try to be a better person and recognizing that when you make mistakes, you have to take responsibility for it,” he told reporters last month.
“You have to own up for it, and promise to do better. That’s what I expect for my kids. That’s how I’m going to be raising them and that’s the conversation I’m going to be having with them tomorrow.”