Nothing is Sacred—Not Even Justin Trudeau

Canadian Prime Minister Blackface Images Surface.

by Tyler Genevay

Staff Political Analyst

With American media outlets transfixed by this nation’s ongoing 2020 campaign for the presidency and control of the Congress, attention was diverted this week to a scandal roiling the federal elections of our northern neighbor. Having led the government since 2015, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—known for his youthful charm, dazzling hair, and boy-next-door looks—is vying for a parliamentary mandate to return his ruling Liberal Party to power in the October 21 election. He has spent his first term cultivating an image of himself and his party as the gracious stewards of a 21st century Canada that welcomes refugees, confronts climate change, steers global foreign policy from conflict, and maintains a working relationship with an American president who shares few of the PM’s goals—or his alluring, “bring-him-home-to-meet-your-parents-and-pray-he-proposes-at-dinner-because-those-babies-would-be-so-damn-cute” charisma.

With his approval rating hovering in the mid-30s following a federal corruption scandal that tainted his government, the Prime Minister is locked in a competitive race for a second term. Given the structure of Canada’s parliamentary system, the Liberals had the edge in the election, buoyed by Mr. Trudeau’s famed campaigning skills, a roaring economy, and relative peace with the United States. Unseating the incumbent prime minister is a challenge for any opposition, and Mr. Scheer (opposition leader) has yet to have a campaign-defining moment to saliently differentiate himself and his party from the Liberals.

When the election officially began last week, most analysts predicted a narrow victory for the ruling party—and a race that was Mr. Trudeau’s to lose. As of Thursday evening, it appeared that the Prime Minister might have lost it. On Wednesday, TIME Magazine published a previously unreported photograph of Mr. Trudeau wearing blackface, robes, and a turban at an “Arabian Nights”-themed party in 2001; all of the future prime minister’s exposed skin had been darkened. Immediate outrage roared across Canada, with many voters expressing disbelief that a leader who has made cultural justice a cornerstone of his premiership would have engaged in such contemptible conduct. The son of a former prime minister, Mr. Trudeau acknowledged it was him in the photograph and explained that his privileged upbringing left him with a glaring blind-spot. Pressed if there were more incidents of similar conduct, the Prime Minister admitted to applying skin-darkening makeup in a high school talent show, for which he also apologized.

As the news rocked the election, Thursday evening saw the publication of yet another video of Mr. Trudeau wearing blackface, in addition to an afro wig, that had not been reported or acknowledged by the PM. The third such instance of the Liberal leader engaging in this racist behavior has led many Canadians to question if this was truly a “blind-spot” or if the Prime Minister had a pattern of bigoted behavior in his teens and twenties. Mr. Trudeau has temporarily halted his campaign, convening with his party’s candidates to determine the best path forward, though he has vowed to remain as prime minister and as the Liberal leader. The scandal has left voters divided, forced to weigh whether the PM’s current commitment to equality and his government’s policy accomplishments matter more than regrettable incidents from his past. Even if Mr. Trudeau is able to secure a second parliamentary mandate next month, his reputation as a liberal beacon in a shifting world has surely been tarnished, as has his manicured image of what a prime minister ought to be.

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