Yukon MP Larry Bagnell at an announcement in Whitehorse on July 16. Bagnell spoke with the News on Sept. 19 in response to the release of an 18-year-old photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing brownface. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Bagnell concedes Trudeau’s past decisions to wear brown and blackface were racist

‘When we do things, we might not think at first blush that it’s going to offend someone’

One day after a picture emerged showing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing brownface, Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said he denounces any behaviour that offends racialized communities, including that of his leader.

Asked whether he would call Trudeau’s past actions racist, he said, “Yes, I do, and it’s not acceptable anymore.”

“When we do things, we might not think at first blush that it’s going to offend someone. We have to think twice, maybe, more carefully as how that might affect someone.”

In terms of its implications going forward, Trudeau, Bagnell continued, “is going to work even harder to fight racism. I think it’ll definitely have that effect.”

The incident has since sent shockwaves across the country.

It started on Sept. 18 when Time magazine published a photo of Trudeau dressed as Aladdin, his hands and face darkened by makeup during an “Arabian Nights”-themed party at the Vancouver private school where he formerly taught. The photo is 18 years old. Trudeau was 29 then.

On the same day the story was published, Trudeau conceded the mistake aboard the Liberals’ campaign plane before going to Winnipeg.

“It was a dumb thing to do,” he told mostly all-white reporters travelling with him. “I’m disappointed in myself, I’m pissed off at myself for having done it. I wish I hadn’t done it, but I did it, and I apologize for it.

“It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist to do, and I’m deeply sorry,” he said.

“I have worked all my life to try and create opportunities for people, to fight against racism and intolerance, and I can just stand here and say that I made a mistake when I was younger, and I wish I hadn’t.”

Trudeau was asked then whether there were other incidents similar in nature. He said, yes, during his high school years while performing a version of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song (Day-O).”

Trudeau addressed the problem again on Sept. 19 in Winnipeg.

That morning, Global News published a video showing Trudeau in blackface, marking a third incident.

Gurdeep Pandher, who’s moderating a debate between Yukon’s federal candidates on immigration and diversity next week, said Trudeau’s past behaviour is wrong, but that he doesn’t consider him racist now.

“People like myself, who are people of colour, who wear a turban, and mocking that, that’s wrong,” he said. “Dehumanizing anyone is wrong. However, I believe in learning from past mistakes. I think we live in a society where we allow people to grow. We live in a society where we allow people, if they made a mistake in the past, to learn from their mistake and become a better person in the future.”

He said the upcoming debate will be affected by the revelations. Pandher said he plans to ask the five candidates for their stances on the matter.

“We need to condemn these types of incidents which bring shame to some people.”

Other federal leaders were quick to weigh-in on Trudeau’s actions.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called Trudeau unfit to be prime minister.

“Wearing brownface is an act of open mockery and racism. It was just as racist in 2001 as it is in 2019,” Scheer said in a brief statement. “And what Canadians saw this evening is someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity and someone who is not fit to govern this country.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who was taking part in a town hall meeting when the news broke, said it’s becoming clear that Trudeau’s public persona may not be an accurate reflection of who he is. Later, in a powerful statement on live television, Singh — the first non-Caucasian leader of a federal political party — made an emotional appeal to Canadians hurt by the image.

“Seeing this image is going to be hard for a lot of people; it’s going to bring up a lot of pain, it’s going to bring up a lot of hurt,” he said.

“Please reach out to your loved ones, please reach out to people who are suffering in silence right now. Please let them know that they are loved, and they are celebrated for who they are.”

With files from The Canadian Press

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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