Updated Sep 19, 2019

Photo of Justin Trudeau in brownface surfaces ahead of Canada election

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged Wednesday night that a photo TIME magazine published of him wearing brownface at an "Arabian Nights" party in 2001 was racist, as he apologized for his actions.

Why it matters: Trudeau, who has celebrated Canada's diversity throughout his tenure as prime minister, recently triggered a general election scheduled for Oct. 21. It will effectively be a referendum on Trudeau's first term, Axios' Dave Lawler notes.

  • An ethics scandal and unfulfilled expectations mean it's far from certain he'll win a new term. Polls show his Liberals neck and neck with the opposition Conservatives.

What he's saying: While taking reporters' questions, Trudeau repeatedly said he's "pissed off" at himself and sorry to Canadians.

I dressed up in an Aladdin costume and put makeup on. I shouldn’t have done it. I should have known better, but I didn’t and I’m really sorry."
— Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau's comments to reporters
  • When asked if it was the only time he'd done something like this, Trudeau responded: "When I was in High School I dressed up at a talent show and sang "Day O" with makeup on."
    • "Day O" is a song by Harry Belafonte.
  • When asked if the photo was racist, Trudeau responded: "Yes."
    • He added that he "didn't consider it a racist action at the time," but has since realized he was wrong.

The big picture: The photo that Time published earlier Wednesday taken at the Arabian Nights gala appeared in the school's yearbook. Trudeau was 29 at the time and a teacher at the private school where the event was being held. The now-prime minister can be seen wearing a turban, robes and makeup to darken his skin.

  • The school, West Point Grey Academy, ranges in tuition from $22,000 to $23,000 annually — making it one of the "most expensive private day schools in Vancouver," according to TIME. During his first campaign, Trudeau played down his role at the school, opting instead to tout his time teaching at a public school.
  • While the photo was previously unreported, TIME notes it has been the "subject of gossip within the West Point Grey community."

Go deeper: The Gridiron Club's blackface past

Editor's note: This article has been updated with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's comments

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Third instance of Justin Trudeau in blackface surfaces

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Global News published a video on Thursday showing Canadian Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau smiling and gesturing with dark makeup covering his face, arms and legs. It is not clear when or where the video was taken.

Why it matters: The video is the 3rd instance of Trudeau wearing racist dress to surface in 12 hours and a month before he faces an Oct. 21 general election and a referendum on his first term.

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Justin Trudeau's political star fades ahead of Canada's election

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's popularity was already deflating under the disillusionment that hampers many incumbents, particularly on the idealistic left, before 2 controversies that seemed almost unimaginable given his high-principled public image: first an ethics breach and now a racism scandal.

Driving the news: Since a 2001 photo of Trudeau in brownface at an Arabian Nights party was published Wednesday by TIME magazine, 2 prior instances in which he wore blackface have come to light. Speaking today, Trudeau apologized repeatedly but admitted, when pressed, that he was "wary of being definitive" about whether other images might surface.

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Obama endorses Justin Trudeau ahead of Canada's election

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Barack Obama made an unusual endorsement of a foreign leader on Wednesday, tweeting that "the world needs" the "progressive leadership" of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Why it matters: Trudeau is in a tight race ahead of Monday's election. His rock-star image has been battered by an ethics scandal and newly surfaced images of him in blackface. Obama is lending a helping hand to a leader he said he was "proud to work with" while in office.

Go deeper: Justin Trudeau's political star fades ahead of Canada's election

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