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.”


John Hume, who worked to end N. Ireland violence, dies at 83

Updated 03 August 2020

John Hume, who worked to end N. Ireland violence, dies at 83

  • Although he advocated for a united Ireland, Hume believed change could not come to Northern Ireland without the consent of its Protestant majority
  • John Hume: I want to see Ireland as an example to men and women everywhere of what can be achieved by living for ideals, rather than fighting for them

LONDON: John Hume, the visionary politician who won a Nobel Peace Prize for fashioning the agreement that ended violence in his native Northern Ireland, has died at 83, his family said Monday.
The Catholic leader of the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party, Hume was seen as the principal architect of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement. He shared the prize later that year with the Protestant leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, for their efforts to end the sectarian violence that plagued the region for three decades and left more than 3,500 people dead.
“I want to see Ireland as an example to men and women everywhere of what can be achieved by living for ideals, rather than fighting for them, and by viewing each and every person as worthy of respect and honor,” he said in 1998. “I want to see an Ireland of partnership, where we wage war on want and poverty, where we reach out to the marginalized and dispossessed, where we build together a future that can be as great as our dreams allow.”
Hume died Monday morning after suffering from ill health for several years, his family said.
Born on Jan. 18, 1937, in Northern Ireland’s second city — Londonderry to British Unionists, Derry to Irish nationalists — Hume trained for the priesthood before becoming a fixture on Northern Ireland’s political landscape. An advocate of nonviolence, he fought for equal rights in what was then a Protestant-ruled state, but he condemned the Irish Republican Army because of his certainty that no injustice was worth a human life.
Although he advocated for a united Ireland, Hume believed change could not come to Northern Ireland without the consent of its Protestant majority. He also realized that better relations needed to be forged between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and between London and Dublin.
He championed the notion of extending self-government to Northern Ireland with power divided among the groups forming it.
“Ireland is not a romantic dream; it is not a flag; it is 4.5 million people divided into two powerful traditions,″ he said. “The solution will be found not on the basis of victory for either, but on the basis of agreement and a partnership between both. The real division of Ireland is not a line drawn on the map, but in the minds and hearts of its people.”
While both Hume and Trimble credited the people of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic for approving a referendum that led to power sharing, it was Hume’s diplomacy that offered the impetus to the peace process that led to the 1998 Good Friday accord.
Hume won the breakthrough in Belfast’s political landscape in 1993 by courting Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, in hopes of securing an IRA cease-fire. That dialogue burnished Adams’ international credibility and led to two IRA cease-fires in 1994 and 1997.
Like most Protestant politicians at the time, Trimble had opposed efforts to share power with Catholics as something that would jeopardize Northern Ireland’s union with Britain. He at first refused to speak directly with Adams, insisting that IRA commanders needed to prove they were willing to abandon violence.
He ultimately relented and became pivotal in peacemaking efforts.
Hume had envisioned a broad agenda for the discussions, arguing they must be driven by close cooperation between the British and Irish governments. The process was overseen by neutral figures like US mediator George Mitchell, with the decisions overwhelmingly ratified by public referendums in both parts of Ireland.
“Without John Hume, there would not have been a peace process,” Mitchell said at the time the prize was announced. ”Without David Trimble, there would not have been a peace agreement.”
Hume and Trimble were said to have had a frosty relationship. But Trimble on Monday described a thawing after the Nobel ceremony in Oslo, recalling that the hotel at which they were staying had suggested the two men chose to relax away from each other.
“We didn’t do that. We relaxed and in some sense celebrated the occasion jointly, and that for me spelt out the principle for how we were going to proceed in the years after that,” he told the BBC.
Tributes poured in after’s Hume’s death was announced, including praise from Adams, who called him a “giant in Irish politics.” Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was in office at the time the accord was signed, lauded Hume’s “epic” contribution to the peace process.
Former US President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement describing their sadness.
“Through his faith in principled compromise, and his ability to see his adversaries as human beings, John helped forge the peace that has held to this day,” they said.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Northern Ireland of today is Hume’s legacy.
“He stood proudly in the tradition that was totally opposed to violence and committed to pursuing his objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means,” Johnson said on Twitter. “His vision paved the way for the stability, positivity and dynamism of the Northern Ireland of today and his passing is a powerful reminder of how far Northern Ireland has come.”
Hume’s family said his funeral would be in keeping with strict guidelines on attendees because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A memorial will be arranged later.
“We are grateful for your condolences and support, and we appreciate that you will respect the family’s right to privacy at this time of great loss,” the family said in a statement. “It seems particularly apt for these strange and fearful days to remember the phrase that gave hope to John and so many of us through dark times: ‘We shall overcome.’”