Trudeau’s support holds after apology for wearing brown face

Toronto, September 21

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged on Friday that he let down his supporters—and all Canadians of colour—by appearing years ago in brown face and black face. Yet the scandal’s fallout may be limited in a country without the harsh and still-divisive racial history of the neighbouring United States.

“I hurt people who in many cases consider me an ally,” Trudeau told a news conference.

“I let a lot of people down.” Trudeau, 47, is seeking a second term as prime minister in an October 21 election. His leading opponent, Andrew Scheer of the Conservative Party, has assailed him as “not fit to govern” because of the revelations.

But key figures in the prime minister’s Liberal Party have stuck by him, including Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who would be a favourite to replace Trudeau as Liberal leader if he lost the election.

Many minority Canadians, increasingly active in politics and government, seem ready to forgive Trudeau.

“As I have gotten to know Justin, I know these photos do not represent the person he is now, and I know how much he regrets it,” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said on Twitter.

Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, predicted Trudeau would easily weather the scandal.

“Indeed, I think he is drawing some sympathy,” Wiseman said.

“This affair is a media bombshell that is bombing with the public...The international media love this story because it goes against type.”

Wiseman also disputed the assertion that Trudeau is a hypocrite when it comes to race and diversity, noting that his cabinet is the most diverse in Canadian history in terms of gender and ethnic background.

Trudeau’s brown face controversy has drawn some comparisons with developments earlier this year in the US, where Virginia Governor Ralph Northam withstood intense pressure to resign after a racist picture surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook.

Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Virginia’s Christopher Newport University, said the revelations were “a shock and disappointment” to supporters of both Trudeau and Northam, whom they viewed as compassionate politicians.

However, Kidd sees big differences in how the two politicians handled the situation.

“Trudeau has expressed genuine contrition and willingness to accept what he did as racist,” Kidd said. “We haven’t seen that from Ralph Northam.” Kidd also cited the divergent racial histories of the two countries.

“Canada has its issues dealing with racial inequities, but nothing like the American South. There’s no legacy of slavery, of Jim Crow or huge gaps in wealth and poverty,” he said. “Northam has to carry the baggage of that history, whereas Trudeau doesn’t have to carry similar baggage.” AP