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'We're not here to be used as props for an election': Panel examines Trudeau's admissions about racist makeup


Justin Trudeau’s admission that he wore racist makeup in the past is disappointing and hurtful, but it’s equally disappointing that other issues of racial intolerance don’t get the same level of attention, say representatives of Edmonton’s Sikh and Muslim communities.

Time Magazine on Wednesday released a 2001 photo of Trudeau wearing brownface and a turban at a British Columbia private school where he taught.

In an apology hours later, Trudeau admitted to wearing blackface in high school while singing Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song (Day O).

A third image and video of Trudeau in blackface was reported Thursday morning and confirmed by the Liberals to have been taken in the early 1990s.

CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM hosted a conversation Thursday with Harman Kandola, an executive member of the World Sikh Organization, and Faisal Suri, president of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Here is an edited excerpt from that discussion.

First reaction

HK: It’s mocking. It’s hurtful because it makes light of the lived experience of brown and black people. Unfortunately, we can’t scrub our face off when the party’s over.

FS:  For such a picture to come in [of] your leader of your country and in what the image depicts — I think that’s the biggest concern.

The apology

HK: Justin Trudeau called it … makeup, he talked about his enthusiasm for costumes. My identity is not your costume. He refused to say brown face, he refused to say blackface. He said that times have changed. …  I’m sorry, to me that’s not sincere.

FS: Prime Minister Trudeau did face the media, acknowledge it. The concerning part is [at] 8 this morning there was another, a third. … What he was clearly asked is, “Was there another incident?” Did you forget or not just bring it up?  

Faisal Suri joined Harman Kandola, an executive member of the World Sikh Organization in a discussion with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM issues of racism in the federal election. (Emilio Avalos/Radio-Canada)

But it was so long ago

HK: Justin Trudeau was 29 years old at the time; he was taught at the top schools. In 2001, blackface was racist. He was a teacher. He was someone in a position of authority.

FS: Back in 2001, a party, a drama, a play, whatever that is. I still [say] there is a high level that has to be held, always upheld. It doesn’t matter who you are or your role within government or non-government. Everybody is held accountable. 

The bigger picture

HK: We’re not here to be used as props for an election, it doesn’t matter to us what the outcome of an election will be. … One of the biggest concerns that face us today is Bill 21, the Quebec’s secularism bill that is the ban on religious symbols.

The prime minister has not taken a strong stance on Bill 21. He said that they’ll watch the court interventions, they will then re-evaluate what positions they take. He says obviously this is not a law that that should exist. However, he’s not willing to take on the Quebec premier in a strong way.

Last words

HK: Racism has been a common thread throughout the election. We’re now only actively talking about it … As much as this is about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, it’s about real people and real individuals who have suffered because of racism, who have suffered because of not only institutional or systemic reasons but because of incidents.

FS: You may think [your actions] to be very minuscule or not as important as you think it may be … We all need to make sure that we’re all looking into things with a different lens and the fact that have to be held accountable.



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