The many faces of Canada’s Justin Trudeau

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)
The many faces of Canada’s Justin Trudeau
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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
The many faces of Canada’s Justin Trudeau
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Updated 28 September 2019

The many faces of Canada’s Justin Trudeau

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.”


UN treaty banning nuclear weapons hailed as a milestone

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed the TPNW as “an important step toward a world free of nuclear weapons.” (AFP/File Photo)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed the TPNW as “an important step toward a world free of nuclear weapons.” (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 22 January 2021

UN treaty banning nuclear weapons hailed as a milestone

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed the TPNW as “an important step toward a world free of nuclear weapons.” (AFP/File Photo)
  • Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomes it as ‘important step toward a world free of nuclear weapons’
  • Treaty signed by 86 nations and ratified by 51 — but none of the world’s nuclear powers have signed up as yet

NEW YORK: The UN celebrated a milestone on Friday as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) came into force. It is the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in more than 50 years.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed the moment as “an important step toward a world free of nuclear weapons.” He added that it reflects the global support for a multilateral approach to nuclear disarmament.

So far, however, none of the nine countries that are known or believed to have nuclear weapons — the US, UK, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — have signed up to the new accord.

Neither has it been ratified by NATO members, nor by Australia, Japan and South Korea, who rely on nuclear weapons to guarantee their security.

The TPNW, which was adopted by the General Assembly in July 2017, builds on the provisions of the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Signatories agree not to “develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.”

It is also the first treaty that requires signatories to provide assistance to the victims of nuclear weapons. It also calls on nations to remedy environmental contamination caused by the use of such weapons.

The TPNW was approved by 122 nations at the UN General Assembly in 2017 but only in October 2020 did it secure the 50 ratifications it needed to come into force. Nations that ratify it are bound by its provisions.

In a video message, Guterres praised the states that have ratified the treaty. He also highlighted the “instrumental role of civil society in advancing the TPNW’s negotiation and entry into force.”

Chief among the activists campaigning for implementation of the treaty has been the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which was founded in 2007 and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

Beatrice Fihn, the organization’s executive director, hailed the implementation of the TPNW as “a new chapter for nuclear disarmament. Decades of activism have achieved what many said was impossible: nuclear weapons are banned.”

Guterres also paid tribute to the victims of nuclear weapons for the role they played in the implementation of the treaty.

“The survivors of nuclear explosions and nuclear tests offered tragic testimonies and were a moral force behind the treaty,” he said. “Its entry into force is a tribute to their enduring advocacy.”

He added that he will use the treaty to guide UN’s response as the organization prepares for the first official meeting of the states that have ratified it.

Guterres urged all nations to continue to work to rid the world of nuclear weapons, which he said “pose growing dangers,” and to avoid the catastrophes they cause to human life.

“The elimination of nuclear weapons remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations,” he added.

Eighty-six countries have signed the TPNW to date, and 51 have ratified it. It now becomes part of international law.

Last October, ICAN noted that “once the treaty comes into force, all (states that are party to it) will need to follow through on their promises, and abide by its prohibitions.”