Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has long presented himself as a champion for the world’s liberals by supporting Indigenous and women’s rights, welcoming immigrants and fighting climate change.
But that polished image took a major hit this week when images and a video surfaced of the prime minister dressing up in blackface and brownface in the early 1990s and in 2001.
With voters heading to the polls on Oct. 21, the news has hurt Trudeau’s re-election campaign.
Stephen Kakfwi, former premier of the Northwest Territories, says that Trudeau should resign.
“I think it was totally unacceptable … and I think he should resign after this election whether he wins or loses,” said Kakfwi, adding Trudeau should “absolutely never step into that office as prime minister ever again.”
Kakfwi said he watched as the story broke on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 18 when Time Magazine published a photo of Trudeau dressed as Aladdin, in blackface and a turban, during an Arabian Nights-themed gala.
The photo was from a 2001 yearbook from the Vancouver private school West Point Grey Academy, where Trudeau taught.
Time reported that it had obtained the photo from Vancouver businessman Michael Adamson.
“I found it really upsetting and it made me extremely uneasy because this is a person who is occupying the highest office in this land,” said Kakfwi.
Trudeau held a news conference Wednesday evening on his campaign plane where he apologized and said he “should have known better.”
“I take responsibility for my decision to do that. I shouldn’t have done it,” he said. “I should have known better. 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 am deeply sorry.”
Kakfwi said the apology rang “shallow” in large part because it became evident that Trudeau only straightened out his behaviour after he became a Member of Parliament for Papineau in 2008.
He also said the behaviour reflects the characteristics of white “superiority,” “mockery” and “ridicule” that are the “basis of colonial policy and racism.”
Kakfwi said he reflected on his own career after the Trudeau incident, explaining that in 1974 when he was 23, he committed to working with the Dene chiefs to make the land a home for everybody and not just the Dene, even as his own people had their own goals of gaining their traditional land back and seeking equal and fair treatment in society.
In 1987, he ran for office with the commitment to ensuring good governance for all peoples in the NWT – Dene, Metis, Invualuit and non-Indigenous people, he said.
He carried those beliefs into his tenure as premier between 2000 and 2003, he added.
“To have a person who occupies the office of the prime minister who painted himself black and brown … is not fit for this office,” said Kakfwi.
Kakfwi developed a less than positive view of Trudeau when he was contemplating taking the seat of former Western Arctic Liberal MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew’s in the early 2000s, he said.
“I met Justin a number of times and when he was a member of Parliament and tried over the years to meet with him,” said Kakfwi. “He had been in my house during the last election. I have never found him to have any depth.”
“I always got the impression that he was just spewing lines and creating this persona that he knows will get him elected,” he continued.
Over the last few years, however, Trudeau has come across as pampered, privileged and much like “a kid,” he said.