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Trudeau: My privilege stopped me seeing blackface as racist

Canada’s prime minister has said “the layers of privilege” he has benefited from meant he did not see that dressing up in blackface was racist.

Justin Trudeau has been speaking after a video showing him in blackface emerged, following the release of images of him wearing black make-up on two other occasions.

He said his choices had “hurt people” and that he had not talked about it before because “quite frankly, I was embarrassed”.

The photo appeared in the West Point Grey Academy 2001 yearbook Pic: Time/West Point Grey Academy
Image: The photo of Justin Trudeau in ‘black face’ in 2001. Pic: Time/West Point Grey Academy

He added: “It is not something that represents the person I’ve become, the leader I try to be.”

“This is something I deeply, deeply regret,” he said.

“Darkening your face – regardless of the context or circumstances – is always unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface.

“I should have understood that then and I never should have done it.”

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He added: “It is something people who live with the kind of discrimination that far too many people do – because of the colour of their skin, or their history, or their origins, or their language, or their religion – face on a regular basis.

Video shows Canadian PM Justin Trudeau in blackface
Video shows Canadian PM Trudeau in blackface

“I didn’t see that from the layers of privilege that I have.”

The images have put more pressure on his campaign for re-election less than five weeks before voters go to the polls.

Canadian news outlet Global News published the video showing Mr Trudeau in blackface.

It shows him covered in what appears to be dark make-up while raising his arms in the air and sticking his tongue out.

In an email to Canadian journalists earlier, a spokesperson for Canada’s Liberal Party confirmed that it was Mr Trudeau in the video, which dates from the early 1990s.

It appears the video was not shot at the same time and place as the other photos of Mr Trudeau in blackface make-up that have come to light in the past 24 hours, says Global News.

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The outlet says it obtained the video from a source earlier this week, but had been attempting to verify it before publishing.

On Wednesday, Mr Trudeau again apologised after a photo of him in brown face make-up at a costume party in 2001 was made public.

The picture was taken while he was a teacher at the West Point Grey Academy at an Arabian Nights-themed gathering and appeared in the private school’s yearbook.

The photo obtained by Time Magazine shows the then 29-year-old with other members of the faculty. Several are in fancy dress, but Mr Trudeau is the only one who appears to have coloured his skin.

Speaking to reporters about the incident, Mr Trudeau said: “I shouldn’t have done that. I should’ve known better but I didn’t. And I’m really sorry.”

‘I didn’t think it was racist at the time’

Mr Trudeau also said that “it was a dumb thing to do” and that he will be asking Canadians “to forgive me for what I did”.

Mr Trudeau also admitted he had dressed up in make-up for a talent show when he was in high school and performed “Day O”, a traditional Jamaican song about people loading bananas onto boats. It is not clear if there are any photographs or videos of that incident.

It is not the first major scandal faced by Mr Trudeau this year.

In February, he was accused of trying persuade former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to reconsider the prosecutor’s decision to press ahead with a trial against SNC-Lavalin, a major employer in the politically important province of Quebec.

Canadian ethics commissioner found in August that Mr Trudeau’s actions breached ethics rules.

Canadians head to the polls on 21 October.

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