ST. ALBERT, Alta. — The chief of a municipal fire department in Alberta has been suspended without pay for two weeks for wearing a blackface costume at a private party three years ago.
Bernd Gretzinger of St. Albert Fire and Rescue Services has apologized for dressing up as musician Lenny Kravitz at the party, which was before he was employed by the city.
Gretzinger says the images were posted on his personal Facebook page and were taken down last year.
He says he dressed up as Kravitz for the celebrity-themed party in 2016 because he is a fan of the rock star’s music.
Gretzinger says no one at the party said anything to him about his costume or suggested it was in poor taste.
He says he posted an apology for the images earlier this month.
“I apologize if I hurt anybody with my actions. That was never the intent,” Gretzinger said. “I’m devastated.”
The City of St. Albert issued a release that doesn’t name Gretzinger, but refers to the behaviour of a city employee while off duty.
“These actions were racially insensitive and not consistent with the culture of the City of St. Albert,” said Kevin Scoble, the city’s chief administrative officer.
“The employee has taken accountability for the mistake and is working to make amends.”
Gretzinger was hired as the city’s fire chief in January. He says he doesn’t take issue with the suspension.
Blackface has long history
Blackface refers to when someone paints or alters their appearance to resemble someone with a different skin tone.
Its origins are rooted in early 19th-century American minstrel performances where white performers would paint their faces black and lips white as a caricature of black people.
Earlier this month, three images and one video surfaced of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in brownface and blackface makeup taken between sometime in the 1990s and 2001.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2019.
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