You are here

With brownface photo, is Trudeau who he portrays himself to be?

This handout image obtained September 19, 2019, courtesy of Time magazine, off the Time Twitter feed shows Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing brown face at a party in 2001.

[NEW YORK] The revelation that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada dressed up in brownface makeup at an "Arabian Nights" party has reinforced a narrative that has dogged him throughout his political career and now threatens his re-election: that he isn't really who he portrays himself to be.

Mr Trudeau has long cast himself as a glittering spokesman for the world's beleaguered liberals, standing up to President Donald Trump, supporting gender and Indigenous rights, welcoming immigrants, and fighting climate change and racism.

But that carefully calibrated image suffered a major blow on Wednesday when the photo emerged. Taken in 2001, while Trudeau was 29 and teaching at a school in Vancouver, British Columbia, it showed him in brownface makeup and a turban at the party, his arms wrapped around women.

It comes only a few months after accusations surfaced that Mr Trudeau had bullied his former justice minister and attorney general, an Indigenous woman, while pressing her to settle corruption charges against a major Quebec engineering company. When she didn't comply, she accused him of demoting her.

The episodes are not the only strikes against Mr Trudeau's meticulously crafted liberal image. On Wednesday, he admitted to dressing up in blackface while performing "Day-O," the Jamaican folk song, in high school.

Your feedback is important to us

Tell us what you think. Email us at

And early Thursday morning, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp posted another photo from 2001 that originally appeared in the school's newsletter. In it, Mr Trudeau, again in brownface and wearing a turban, has his arms around two Sikh men.

"Justin Trudeau has carefully crafted an image of what Canadians aspire to: hope, openness to the world and youth," said Jean-Marc Léger, chief executive of Léger, a leading polling company in Montreal. "The blackface episode shatters that perfect image and casts questions on his authenticity."

Nevertheless, he said, Canadians were a "forgiving people" and predicted that Mr Trudeau, who on Wednesday night apologised repeatedly for behavior that had taken place nearly two decades ago, could still recover.

Nik Nanos, the founder of Nanos Research, an Ottawa polling firm, said that finding a way back, while not impossible, will be very difficult for Mr Trudeau and his Liberal Party.

"This is about as bad news as you can get in a campaign," he said. "The Liberals have to find a way to change the channel."


BT is now on Telegram!

For daily updates on weekdays and specially selected content for the weekend. Subscribe to