Tuesday’s successful Liberal photo op “win” with children in New Brunswick turned into Wednesday evening’s brownface photo nightmare for Justin Trudeau. And as Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning a second photo emerged showing a young Trudeau in blackface and a video surfaced as well. The Canadian election just got its “October surprise” and it’s only September.
If you’re not a close follower of U.S. elections, here is the Merriam-Webster definition of the phrase:
A revelation disclosed in the month prior to an election, often orchestrated in the hope of dramatically influencing the result.”
How and why Time magazine got the first photo is not clear. But we did learn on Thursday that the video was provided to Global TV by the Conservative Party. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer acknowledged that in his news conference. He did not answer a question about when the Conservative Party got the video and how long it had the video before turning it over to the network “for verification.”
In his news conference in Quebec City, reporters reminded Scheer that he said he had accepted apologies from Conservative candidates who made controversial statements. Scheer answered that Trudeau based his “apology on a lie.” Scheer accused Trudeau of having “one set of rules for himself and another set of rules for the rest of us.”
Scheer did take a minute to recognize NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s response to the photos. Scheer said Singh “obviously was speaking on behalf of so many Canadians who have been victims of racist acts or mockery like that.” In Hamilton today Singh said the photos “hurt.” Singh addressed the daily reality of Canada’s racialized citizens. “Imagine if you have been treated differently by how you look and you see the PM making light of it,” he said.
Justin Trudeau’s short apology on Wednesday night was followed on Thursday afternoon by a 40-minute news conference. Trudeau said he couldn’t remember how many times he applied blackface. He admitted time and again that he comes from a place of privilege and admitted that his privilege “comes with a massive blind spot.” So when did Trudeau’s staff find out about the photos? “When we found out that "TimeMagazine” was looking for a picture of that event, I told my staff,” Trudeau said. Trudeau said he kept it a secret for all these years because he was “embarrassed.”
It is possible the last 24 hours will change the tenor of the campaign. It’s not every federal election when the Prime Minister running for re-election asks for “forgiveness for what I did.” Will it open up an opportunity to debate the issues of racism, immigration and tolerance in Canada? How Canadians respond to the actions of Trudeau as a young man will be fascinating to follow between now and election day.