Culture & Lifestyle / Trudeau In Brownface Scandal: Should We Forgive Him?

Trudeau In Brownface Scandal: Should We Forgive Him?

Culture & Lifestyle Sep 19, 2019

Update: Before this was schedule to post this morning, it has been revealed that in addition to him appearing in brownface that first came out last night, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wore blackface twice before. Once in high school (which he admitted to during his press conference last night) as well as during an early 1990s party (for which Global News obtained a video of) making it now a total of three incidents. The story is still developing…

What is usually attributed to American politics, Canadians had a taste of the unseemly when news broke that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared in brownface at a work event back in 2001. While this is new territory for us Canadians, it should be interesting to see (as we are in the midst of a tight federal election) how this will play out and if Trudeau will get cancelled. 

TIME magazine dropped a political bombshell last night tweeting about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his appearance in brownface at a 2001 party at a Vancouver-based private school where he worked at the time. The theme of the party was Arabian Nights and he came as Aladdin. Not only was his face substantially darkened, his hands were as well (he was really committed to this role, it seems).

With the upcoming Canadian federal election — and this being the first week of campaigning — the timing of this does come across as a bit suspect buoyed by the fact that an American media outlet was given this scoop. But will Trudeau be cancelled? Can he whether the storm? Time will tell. But not that much time as the Canadian election is just over a month away.

Trudeau In Brownface
Trudeau In Brownface: TIME broke the exclusive news that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared in brownface at a work party at West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver in 2001. Photo Credit:

During the press conference which he immediately held after the news broke (and credit must be given to him for getting out there immediately) reporters did note that other others (most notably American examples) have been cancelled so why should he not step down?

Trudeau commented on the damning photo:

“In 2001, when I was a teacher in Vancouver, I attended a gala. The theme was Arabian Nights. I dressed up in an Aladdin costume and put makeup on. I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better, but I didn’t and I’m really sorry … I take responsibility for my decision to do that. I shouldn’t have done it. I should have known better. It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist to do and I am deeply sorry.”

Trudeau’s press conference immediately after the news broke about his brownface photograph. Photo Credit:

Sarabjit Kaur from KPW Communications told CP24 that this snapshot shouldn’t taint Trudeau’s overall political career and it’s not part of a pattern as “he has taken an educational opportunity to say that it’s racist as people may not be aware. He has not made any excuses and has apologized sincerely.”

Jagmeet Singh, Leader of the Federal NDP Party — who was in the midst of his own town hall when the news broke — became emotional when he recalled his own childhood where he was continuously subject to racism. He decided not to directly address Trudeau but took a more philosophical approach and pleaded to his constituents to “not to give up on Canada”.

trudeau in brownface
Jagmeet Singh, Leader of the Federal NDP Party held an impromptu press conference in response to Trudeau’s brownface scandal. Photo Credit:

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer on the other hand was decidedly direct in his condemnation noting,”what Canadians saw this evening was a complete lack of judgement”.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May tweeted:

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May took to Twitter to express her dismay. Photo Credit:

While we are living in a cancel culture, it should be interesting to see how this news will play out over the coming days and if this will be the new narrative that the opposition parties adopt when it comes to their own campaigns. In the meantime, I wanted to take a look at recent politicians who stayed put after their own blackface controversies. When it comes to this, again, we have to look to our southern neighbours. However, it must be noted that Trudeau’s incidence has sparked a debate on the validity of equating his unfortunate brownface (which was to portray a fictitious character —albeit a Middle Eastern one) with the blatant racial connotations of blackface taking into consideration America’s history of slavery and oppression of the African-American population. 


Ralph Northam- Governor of Virginia 

Trudeau In Brownface
Governor Ralph Northam news tweeted by The Virginian-Pilot. Photo Credit:

Ralph Northam wore blackface in his 1984 medical school year book. When this hit the news in February of this year, calls for him to resign came from both Republicans and Democrats. However Northam has resisted and still remains in office as the Governor of Virginia.


Mark R. Herring — Virginia Attorney General 

Trudeau In Brownface
Mark R. Herring Virginia Attorney General confessed he wore blackface at a college party in 1980. Photo Credit:

A week after Northam’s scandal broke, it was revealed that Attorney General, Mark .R. Herring also donned blackface during a party in 1980 while he was an undergrad at University of Virginia. He still remains in office.


Kay Ivey – Governor of Alabama 

Trudeau In Brownface
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey as she makes her public statement and apology for her wearing blackface during a Auburn University skit. Photo Credit:

Earlier this summer, news broke that the Governor of Alabama was found performing a college skit in blackface which was discovered through an unearthed years-old radio interview on “Auburn University Profiles” from her alma mater, Auburn University. She refused to resign amidst calls to do so.

“This is the most American Canadian election, ever”, one tweet screamed.

Yes that’s true, but it begs the question: should he be given a pass or pay the consequences?

Main Image Photo Credit: 



Hina P. Ansari

Hina P. Ansari


Hina P. Ansari is a graduate from The University of Western Ontario (London, Ontario). Since then she has carved a successful career in Canada's national fashion-publishing world as the Entertainment/Photo Editor at FLARE Magazine, Canada's national fashion magazine. She was the first South Asian in...