Racially insensitive yearbook pic leaves Trudeau red-faced

Top News | ASSOCIATED PRESS 20 Sep 2019

Canadian leader Justin Trudeau's campaign is trying to contain a growing scandal following the publication of a photo showing him in brown-face makeup at a 2001 costume party.

The prime minister apologized and begged Canadians to forgive him.

Time magazine published the photo, saying it was taken from the yearbook at the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in British Columbia where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics.

It depicts the then-29-year-old Trudeau wearing a turban and robe, with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck.

Trudeau, who launched his reelection campaign a week ago, said he should have known better. "I'm pissed off at myself, I'm disappointed in myself,'' Trudeau told reporters traveling with him on his campaign plane.

He is the latest politician to face scrutiny over racially insensitive photos and actions from their younger days.

Earlier this year, Virginia governor Ralph Northam faced pressure to resign after a racist picture surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook. He denied being in the picture but admitted wearing blackface as a young man while portraying Michael Jackson at a dance party in the 1980s.

Since then, Virginia attorney general Mark Herring has acknowledged wearing blackface in college, and Alabama governor Kay Ivey has publicly apologized for donning blackface during a college skit more than 50 years ago. None has resigned.

The photo of Trudeau was taken at the school's annual dinner, which had an Arabian Nights theme that year, Trudeau said, adding that he was dressed as a character from Aladdin.

Trudeau said it was not the first time he has painted his face. Once, he said, he performed a version of Harry Belafonte's Banana Boat Song (Day-O) during a talent show.

"I should have known better then but I didn't, and I am deeply sorry for it,'' Trudeau said. "I'm going to ask 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.''

Trudeau, 47, who champions diversity and multiculturalism, said he did not consider it racist at the time but said society knows better now.

The photo's publication could spell more trouble for Trudeau, who polls say is facing a serious challenge from Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

Trudeau has been admired by liberals around the world for his progressive policies in the Trump era.

But he was already vulnerable following one of the biggest scandals in Canadian political history when Trudeau's former attorney general said he improperly pressured her to halt the criminal prosecution of a company in Quebec.

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