As a third example of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in racist face paint emerges, fiery debates are underway about the photos, his judgement and how he’s responded to the controversy.
The images of Trudeau with his face, hands and legs painted dark and dating back to his days as a student and a teacher in Vancouver, have garnered international headlines and criticism – but among the outrage and fury is also disappointment and forgiveness. The responses come the same day Trudeau apologized for a newly-unearthed video and revealed he doesn’t know if there are more than the three current examples.
CTV News Vancouver spoke with Thomas Peters, who lives near the prestigious West Point Grey Academy where Trudeau wore an offensive “Aladdin” costume as part of a school gala in 2001. Peters said he was "extremely dismayed" when he saw the photos.
"He should step down," Peters said. "There’s no question about it.”
Danny Ramadan, a Syrian-Canadian author and LGBTQ advocate had a very different perspective.
“The photos were quite disheartening, especially from a person I look up to because I see a lot of the work he has done regarding diversity and inclusion,” he said.
Ramadan recounted being called “Aladdin” in the gay village in Vancouver’s West End when he first arrived a few years ago, which he found deeply upsetting. But he accepted Trudeau’s apology, calling it genuine and from someone he sees as learning from the outrage.
"Yes, the photos are racist and racism has always been there since the races discovered each other, but at the same time expecting people to just be born with a manual on how to navigate racism is challenging," he said. “We grow up, we learn, we become better at what we're doing and we learn from our past mistakes and clearly that is the path that Justin Trudeau is on."
Former Surrey city councillor-turned-entrepreneur, Barinder Rasode, said the images don’t offend her personally.
"I absolutely understand why some people are offended by this,” she said. “ As a person of colour, I'm not offended by this lack of judgment, but what I am offended by is the fact no political party at this point is standing up and saying, 'listen, these are real issues we need to tackle.'"
Rasode is worried that substantive election issues around policies that will affect millions of Canadians are being lost in the fracas over the face paint.
"If he hadn't apologized, I think this conversation should continue, but I think after his apology that I received as being quite sincere, we need to move on and I'd rather hear about healthcare and transportation, the economy and what my daughter's future looks like," Rasode said.
But those who study and help implement policies around racial discrimination and educate others about sensitivity to these issues say more discussion is needed on the thorny issues the face-paint has provoked.
"Some people say it was unintended and people were having fun – but at whose expense? I think kids need to understand this in this multicultural, multi-racial society," said UBC professor and David Lam Chair in Multicultural Education, Annette Henry. “It's hurtful to non-white communities and I think many racialized communities have spoken out and said how surprised and hurt they were."
While Henry believes Trudeau’s apology was sincere, she questions how deep Trudeau’s understanding is of issues around racism and how his actions affect others. But, she believes the conversations taking place in classrooms, workplaces and coffee shops as a result are important.
“Conversations about, for example, what it means for white people to dress up as black and brown people and even just who we are as a society and issues of power and privilege," she said.
As discussions and debates take place online and face-to-face across the country, Ramadan hopes he’s not the only one scrutinizing the timing of the controversy.
“What I care about is the future of Canada and at the moment this matter is in its core not about racism at all – it's about politics,” he insisted. “The timing in releasing the photos is not because their bleeding heart [wants to address] cultural appropriation. They’re not doing so because they care about racism. It's all about the fact this is happening in the month before the election."