Justin Trudeau

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What was the Accusation?

One week into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2019 re-election campaign, a 2001 photograph surfaced of Trudeau at an “Arabian Nights” themed costume gala wearing brownface makeup. Trudeau also admitted there were two additional times in the past where he was in a similar type”makeup.” These included a photo of Trudeau performing a Jamaican folk song in high school and an early 1990’s video with black makeup on his face. After winning easily in his previous election campaigns, Trudeau found himself in a tight battle with Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who seized the opportunity to criticize Trudeau by saying that “he was ‘extremely shocked and disappointed’ in the prime minister, and he was ‘unfit’ to lead the country.  Other rivals also took to social media to issue condemnation. Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party and first national leader to wear a turban, took to Twitter after seeing picture: “Tonight is not about the Prime Minister. It’s about every young person mocked for the colour of their skin. The child who had their turban ripped off their head. And those reliving intense feelings of pain and hurt from past experiences of racism.” The National Council of Canadian Muslims said his appearance in brownface was “disgraceful,” but later thanked the prime minister for apologizing.

Uncertain if more images were still out there that could harm him, Trudeau responded, “the fact of the matter is that I’ve always…and you’ll know this…been more enthusiastic about costumes than is sometimes appropriate.” The apology, which was issued while on his campaign’s airplane, was the first of several public statements on the matter. In spite of the controversy, Trudeau went on to win reelection the following month.

Key Apologia Strategies:

Mortification, Defeasibility, Corrective Action, Bolstering



Justin Trudeau: “In 2001, I was a teacher out in Vancouver. I attended an end-of-year gala and the theme was Arabian Nights. I dressed up in an Aladdin costume and put makeup on. I shouldn’t have done that. I should’ve known better. But I didn’t. And I’m really sorry.”

Reporter: “Do you think you should resign?”

Justin Trudeau: “I think there are people who’ve made mistakes “¦ in this life. Then you make decisions based on what they actually do, what they did and on the case-by-case basis. I deeply regret that we … that I did that. I should’ve known better. But I didn’t.”

Reporter: “How do you feel about this coming up right now in the campaign?”

Justin Trudeau: “Obviously I regret that I did it. It’s not about timing, it’s about having done something that I shouldn’t have done and I’m really sorry I did.”

Reporter: “Have you done something like this, Mr. Trudeau? Is that the only time in your life you’ve ever done something like that?”

Justin Trudeau: “When I was in high school, I, uh, dressed up at a, uh, talent show and sang Day O, with, with makeup on.”

Reporter: “Mr. Trudeau, what do you say to racialized Canadians who are likely going to be offended by seeing these photos and hearing about what you also did in high school?”

Justin Trudeau: “I regret it deeply. I am deeply sorry that I did that, I should have known better. Uh, but I didn’t. And I did that and I shouldn’t have done that.”

Reporter: “Why is this coming out now?”

Justin Trudeau: “Listen, it was something that I shouldn’t have done many years ago, uh, and I recognize that I shouldn’t have done it.”

Reporter: “Will you resign? Will you resign? Many in the United States, when they’ve been discovered with these sort of things, they are asked to resign. Have you given thought to [resigning]?”

Justin Trudeau: “Uh, 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.”

Reporter: “And I wondered if you might place a call tonight to Jagmeet Singh, to Amarjeet Sohi, to Harjit Sajjan, if you have any words to say to some of your staff who may find this offensive.”

Justin Trudeau: “I have made a number of calls to friends and colleagues tonight, and I will have many more colleagues, many more calls to make.”

Reporter: “The Conservatives say you’re not as advertised. How can you look at Canadians and tell them that’s not true?”

Justin Trudeau: “I have worked all my life to try and create opportunities for people to fight against racism and intolerance. And I can just stand here and say that I made a mistake when I was younger, and I wish I hadn’t. I should have known better then, but I didn’t. And I did it. And I am deeply sorry for it.”

Reporter: “If one of your Candidates had come out with one of these photos during a campaign, would an apology had been enough for you to allow them to stay?”

Justin Trudeau: “We would make that decision on a case-by-case basis and look at all the factors involved. But I can’t answer a hypothetical on that.”

Reporter: “Why should you be allowed to stay?”

Justin Trudeau: “Um, I’m going to be asking Canadians to forgive me for what I did. I shouldn’t have done that. I take responsibility for it. It was a dumb thing to do. I’m disappointed in myself; I’m pissed off at myself for having done it. I wish I hadn’t done it, but I did it and I apologize for it.”

Reporter: “Why has it taken so long for you to apologize for this, you’ve know that this happened a long time ago.”

Justin Trudeau: “I’ve been”¦. I’ve been forthright when this has came forward that it is something that I regret deeply having done.”

Reporter: “Your research team has been hammering the conservatives on social media. We’ve been told privately there’s an arsenal of things still to come for inappropriate social media behavior in the past. Is all of that … but how could you credibly do something like that now, in the middle of a campaign after what we’ve all seen tonight?”

Justin Trudeau: “I’ve taken responsibility for, for having made a real mistake in the past. I stand here before Canadians, as I will throughout this campaign, and talk about the work we have to do to make a better country together. And I’m going to continue to stay focused on that and continue to work to fight intolerance and discrimination, even though obviously I made a mistake in the past.”

Reporter: “What does this mean for your campaign?”

Justin Trudeau: “This means that I’m going to continue to work very hard to demonstrate to Canadians that I’m always going to try and take responsibility for my mistakes, but always work towards a better future for all Canadians. I have a big day in Winnipeg tomorrow where I’m going to be meeting with Canadians, we’re going to continue getting out there across the country and talking about the kind of future we all need to roll up our sleeves and build.”

Reporter: “How do you feel about other candidates who may have made mistakes on social media?”

Justin Trudeau: “I think this is something like everything that you have to evaluate on a case-by-case basis. This is something that I take seriously and I take responsibility for. I’m pissed off at myself, obviously. I’m disappointed in myself. And I’m apologizing to Canadians.”

Reporter: “What is taking responsibility here? What is the consequence for you? For a lot of your candidates, this would be at least a call to resignation.”

Justin Trudeau: “This would be a call for important conversations with all those candidates and a real stake in taking stock in the path forward, and I’m having conversations with, with my colleagues, with fellow candidates and I’m going to be continuing to having conversations with Canadians about this and about many other things that we’re hoping to work together on one positively.”

Reporter: “You’ve said you had conversations with individuals probably over the last hour. In talking to racialized members of your cabinet, in your caucus, what did they say to you? Are they disappointed?”

Justin Trudeau: “Um, what I’ve said to them [is] what I’m saying here. How I”

Reporter: “What did they think of you?”

Justin Trudeau: “I’ve said to them what I am saying here. How I take responsibility for it. How I did something that I really shouldn’t have done and I’m disappointed and pissed off at myself. What they said, quite frankly, I am touched by having as thoughtful a team around me as I have.”

Reporter: “When did your team know about this? What did they find out?”

Justin Trudeau: “I’ve been talking to candidates to see”¦ I’ve been talking to my fellow candidates tonight.”

Reporter: “Did you know about this before? That this was going to break before the event this afternoon?”

Justin Trudeau: “I found out, I found today that it was going to break tonight.”

Reporter: “When did you tell your team that you had done this? When did you let them know?”

Justin Trudeau: “We’ve had conversations about this over the past, over the past while, but the reality is that we’ve gotta continue to focus on fighting discrimination.”

Reporter: “You didn’t tell, you didn’t tell them about this till recently?”

Justin Trudeau: “I talked about it recently, yes.”

Reporter: “The woman in the photograph, you’re touching her in a very familiar way. Were you in a relationship with her?”

Justin Trudeau: “She was a close friend.”

Reporter: “Was this photo racist in your opinion?”

Justin Trudeau: “Yes. Yes, it was … I didn’t consider it a racist action at the time, but now we know better and this was something that was unacceptable and yes, racist.”

Reporter: “Within the last year, the governor of Virginia was found taking pictures in blackface. Did you not think at that time, maybe I should say something to my friends and colleagues about something I did? We’ve seen other celebrities, comedians also confront this sort of behaviour … didn’t you think at that time, jeez, I’m a politician and I’ve done that, maybe I should say something?”

Justin Trudeau: “This is part of the reflections we all have to have on how we judge the mistakes that we’ve made in the past, how we take responsibility for them and mostly, how we keep moving forward as a society recognizing that we do need to do more to fight anti black racism, systemic discrimination, unconscious bias, all these things that are present that I’m certainly not immune from. I think there is a, certainly a significant reflection that, that I’ve had over the past while on this and if it leads other people to have reflections, then that’s a good thing. But this is very much about me taking responsibility for an action I really shouldn’t have done.”

Reporter: “Did you understand why it’s racist to wear blackface? Did you explain that? Why it is racist to wear blackface?”

Justin Trudeau: “I think it’s “¦ well-known that communities and people who live with intersectionalities and face discrimination, the likes of which I have never personally had to experience is, uh, is a significant thing that is very hurtful, and that’s why I am so deeply disappointed in myself.”

Reporter: “Why didn’t you tell people sooner?”

Justin Trudeau: “This is a time where we’re focused on moving forward as a country and we’re continuing. “

Reporter: “Why didn’t you tell people about this?”

Justin Trudeau “I’m talking about it now.”

Reporter: “How are you going to explain this to your children?”

Justin Trudeau: ” I’m gonna have a conversation with them tomorrow morning before they go to school about taking responsibility for mistakes you make. About living up every day to try and be a better person. Recognizing that when you make mistakes you have to take responsibility for it, you have to own up for it, and you have to promise to do better. That’s what I expect of my kids, that’s how I’m going to be raising them. And that’s certainly the conversation I’m going to be having with them tomorrow.”

Reporter: “Why would you launch an attack you did on the Conservatives knowing you had this in your background? This seems like a terrible mistake, knowing you’ve done something like this.”

Justin Trudeau: “I think the fact is that I look forward to having conversations about how we move forward as a society, how we move forward as individuals. If everyone who is going to be standing for office needs to demonstrate that they’ve been perfect every step of their lives, um, there’s going to be a shortage of people running for office. I think what is important is that, yes, people get challenged on mistakes they’ve made in the past … that they recognize those mistakes. And they pledge to do better. That’s what we expect of people.”

Reporter: “Andrew Scheer was gonna to do that with his candidates and he has said so a few days ago, that people should be forgiven. And it didn’t seem to me like many Liberals are ready to grant him the time of day for that.”

Justin Trudeau: “I certainly accept that people can make choices about who they choose to run with and who they choose to have as candidates.”

Reporter: “Mr. Trudeau, you’ve mentioned the incident in high school, we just found out about the photo tonight. Do you want to tell Canadians about any other instances where you were concerned that you were racist, or had blackface or brownface on?”

Justin Trudeau: “I think, I think it’s been plenty. The fact of the matter is that I’ve always, and you’ll know this, been more enthusiastic about costumes than is somehow, is sometimes appropriate. But these are the situations that, that I’m correcting.”

Reporter: “Is it the only two or are there more?”

Justin Trudeau: “These are the situations that I regret.”

Reporter: “Mr. Trudeau, when you go to sleep tonight and you’re reflecting on this day, what are you going to do?”

Justin Trudeau: “I’m going to be thinking about how much harder I’m going to have to continue to work to demonstrate to Canadians that I’m focused on building a better world with less discrimination, less intolerance, and less racism, and that this choice that I made many years ago, which was the wrong choice, and one that I regret deeply, I need to, I am owning up to it, and I am going to focus on moving forward.”


Austen, I., & Dan , B. (2019, September 18). Justin Trudeau says he Is ‘deeply sorry’ after brownface photo surfaces. New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/18/world/canada/trudeau-brownface.html

Behrmann, S. (2019, September 20). Justin Trudeau apologizes again, blames ‘privilage’ as third blackface instance emerges. Here’s what we know. USA Today. Retrieved from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019/09/19/justin-trudeau-blackface-controversy-heres-what-we-know/2380540001/

Gillies, R. (2019, September 18). ‘A dumb thing to do’: Trudeau apologizes for brownface. Associated Press. Retrieved from: https://apnews.com/article/74aaf4cf7ef148fdb75dfe977b99eb3c

Gonzales, R. (2019, September 19). Trudeau apologies but sidesteps questions on number of blackface incidents. NPR. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2019/09/19/762539123/trudeau-apologizes-but-sidesteps-questions-on-number-of-blackface-incidents

Kambhampaty, A. P., & Carlisle, M. (2019, September 19). Justin Trudeau admits to wlso Wearing blackface ‘makeup’ in high school following TIME Report. Time. Retrieved from: https://time.com/5680868/justin-trudeau-brownface-photo-apology/

Lyons, K., & Cecco, L. (2019, September 18). Justin Trudeau brownface: Canada PM apologises after image emerges. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/19/justin-trudeau-brownface-canada-pm-apologises-after-image-emerges

News, G. (2019, September 18). Trudeau apologized for his brownface controversy. Here’s exactly what he said. Global News. Retrieved from: https://globalnews.ca/news/5921854/trudeau-brownface-controversy-what-he-said/