The many faces of Canada’s Justin Trudeau

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The blackface controversy comes as surveys indicate that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party is losing ground to the Conservatives. (AFP)
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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s progressive image has been damaged by recently exposed historical incidents of controversial blackface makeup. AFP
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Updated 28 September 2019

The many faces of Canada’s Justin Trudeau

  • Photos and video call into question Prime Minister Trudeau's professed commitment to diversity
  • Liberal Party politician haunted by newly discovered images of him as a young man in blackface makeup

DUBAI: Arabs and Canadians have reacted with shock and dismay as photos taken at a private school in 2001 and other events once again call into question Justin Trudeau’s carefully crafted image as a champion of inclusivity and diversity.

The confusion over the Canadian prime minister’s public persona has become a hot issue in the campaign for the Oct. 21 election, with surveys showing the ruling Liberal Party losing slight ground to its Conservative rivals in what may be an indication of growing disillusionment among its core supporters.
The image that stirred up the firestorm showed Trudeau in brownface at an Arabian Nights-themed party when he was a 29-year-old teacher at the West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver. In the photo, Trudeau is wearing a turban and robe, with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck. He is standing beside four young women with his hands around one of them.
The tradition of brownface and blackface — white people painting their faces darker — was common in North America until it came to be viewed as a racist caricature.
A day after Trudeau admitted his behavior was racist and apologized, a video emerged of his face and limbs covered in black makeup. He is seen laughing, making faces and sticking his tongue out.
Further embarrassing Trudeau, a second photo, dating back to his high school days, surfaced in which he is seen wearing blackface as he sings a Jamaican folk song popularized by Harry Belafonte, the American singer and civil rights activist.
The two photos and the video have raised troubling questions about the character of a politician who rose to high office four years ago on a platform of social justice, gender equality and indigenous and minority rights.
The revulsion felt by millions of Canadians was arguably summed up best by Jagmeet Singh, the plain-speaking leader of the New Democratic Party.
“I think he needs to answer for it,” Singh said. “Who is the real Mr. Trudeau? Is it the one behind closed doors, the one when the cameras are turned off that no one sees? Is that the real Mr. Trudeau? Because more and more, it seems like it is.”
Another Canadian who did not mince words is Noor El-Kadri, a University of Ottawa professor and president of the Canadian Arab Federation. In an interview to CTV News, he described Trudeau’s behavior as “outrageous ... racist to the bone.”
Such harsh criticism was unimaginable when Trudeau became the 23rd prime minister of Canada following the 2015 federal election. At the time, Trudeau’s multiculturalist image invited comparisons with his intellectual-activist father, Pierre Trudeau, who served as the 15th prime minister of Canada and leader of the Liberal party between 1968 and 1984.
But the scales have fallen from the eyes of many Canadians since his rise to power.
“At a time when we see Mr. Trudeau — he’s talking a lot about inclusion and diversity and all these things, this uncovers what is inherent within him. This is truly not the son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau,” El-Kadri said.
His views were echoed by Mustafa Farooq, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, who said: “The wearing of brownface is reprehensible, and harkens back to a history of racism and an Orientalist mythology which is unacceptable.”
Even Trudeau supporters are finding it hard to gloss over their leader’s past behavior. “Although it wasn’t his intention to be racist, it is inexcusable and shocking to see blackface and brownface images of our prime minister online,” Hussein Koteiche, a Lebanese-Canadian consultant based in Toronto, told Arab News.
Truth be told, Trudeau is no stranger to political scandal or controversy. In 2010, it was revealed that he earned $1.3 million in public-speaking fees from charities and school boards across Canada. He was criticized for accepting these payments even after becoming an MP, although he promised to pay back any organization that was dissastified.
Then there was the famous trip to India in 2018, when the Canadian first family were photographed in overly lavish local costumes.
Trudeau took part in a series of events that many saw as planned carefully to show off his family’s traditional Indian wardrobe. While visiting Punjab, Trudeau, in a gesture clearly aimed at the large, politically significant Punjabi Canadian population, wore a white sherwani with gold thread work, while the rest of his family wore clothes with a strong gold theme.
In February this year, Trudeau’s reputation as a poster boy of transparency and indigenous peoples’ rights was shredded by what has come to be known as the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Jody Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s attorney general and first indigenous justice minister, testified that officials inappropriately pressured her to help the Canadian engineering company SNC-Lavalin avoid a corruption trial. Trudeau was accused of pressuring her to reach a deal with the firm — and demoting her when she refused to toe the line.
A second minister, Jane Philpott, later resigned as president of the cabinet’s Treasury Board in solidarity with Wilson-Raybould.
The independent federal ethics commissioner released a report in August that said Trudeau violated the conflict of interest act. Directly and through his senior officials, he had used various means to exert influence over Wilson-Raybould, the commissioner said.
Now, as the reverberations of the SNC-Lavalin affair are still being felt across Canada, Trudeau’s “colorful” past is coming back to haunt him.
Writing recently in The Spectator, political commentator Stephen Daisley summed up the controversies this way: “Trudeaupian liberalism is not about equality but about the benevolence of the educated, monied tiers of society towards the downtrodden. They’re doing you a favor. This right-on snobbery had much more to do with Trudeau’s dress-up choices than the bogeyman of ‘white privilege’.”
Trudeau sounds confident he will ride out the storm. “I am continuing to be open with Canadians about the mistake I made,” he said last week. “This is something that I take responsibility for ... I will continue to work every day to fight racism, to fight discrimination, to fight intolerance in this country.”
But Andrew Scheer, who as the Conservative Party leader is hoping to topple the Liberals from power in next month’s election, has no doubt that the prime minister’s school yearbook picture was the real McCoy.
“What Canadians saw ... is someone with a total lack of judgement and integrity,” Scheer said of Trudeau, “and someone who is not fit to govern this country.”


Kim Jong Un supervises another North Korean military drill

Updated 11 min 48 sec ago

Kim Jong Un supervises another North Korean military drill

  • North Korea has publicized two military drill in three days
  • Kim Jong un has urged combat pilots to prepare against enemies ‘armed to the teeth’ while attending a flight demonstration

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised a parachuting drill of military sharpshooters and vowed to build an “invincible army,” displaying more defiance even as the United States and South Korea called off their own exercises to create space for nuclear diplomacy.
The report Monday by the Korean Central News Agency came hours after President Donald Trump in a tweet urged Kim to “act quickly, get the deal done” while hinting at another summit, writing, “See you soon!”
At an Asian defense ministers’ conference in Bangkok on Sunday, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the United States has indefinitely postponed a joint military exercise with South Korea in an “act of goodwill” toward North Korea. Diplomats have been pushing to resume stalled nuclear talks ahead of Kim’s end-of-year deadline for the Trump administration to salvage the diplomacy.
North Korea has publicized two military drill in three days. A report Saturday said Kim urged combat pilots to prepare against enemies “armed to the teeth” while attending a flight demonstration.
KCNA published photos that showed Kim posing with North Korean air force sharpshooters and soldiers who used white parachutes to land on a training field.
Kim while supervising the drill said it’s “necessary to wage a drill without notice under the simulated conditions of real war” for improving his military’s war readiness and build it into an “invincible army,” KNCA said. Kim did not make any specific comment toward Washington or Seoul in the report.
North Korea has been ramping up missile tests and other military demonstrations in recent months in an apparent pressure tactic over the talks.
Negotiations have faltered since a February summit between Kim and Trump in Vietnam, which broke down after the U.S. rejected North Korean demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
Kim issued an end-of-year deadline for the Trump administration to offer mutually acceptable terms for a deal while saying that the North would seek a “new path” if the United States persists with sanctions and pressure.
Working-level talks last month in Sweden broke down over what the North Koreans described as the Americans’ “old stance and attitude.”
North Korea last week said the United States has proposed a resumption of stalled nuclear negotiations in December. But North Korean negotiator Kim Myong Gil didn’t clearly say whether the North would accept the supposed U.S. offer and said the country has no interest in talks if they are aimed at buying time without discussing solutions.
He said the North isn’t willing to make a deal over “matters of secondary importance,” such as possible US offers to formally declare an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, which was halted by a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, or establish a liaison office between the countries.