Leftist Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke with his tradition of dressing up for Halloween this year, the first Halloween since international media published photos of him in various states of “brownface” and blackface.
Trudeau has worn blackface to perform Harry Belafonte’s “The Banana Boat Song Day-O” in high school, for an “Arabian Nights”-themed party as a teacher in 2001, and at least one other time in an undated video. Confronted by journalists, Trudeau said in September that he could not list all the times he had worn blackface because he had done it so often that he did not remember them all.
His Liberal Party nonetheless won a narrow victory in Canada’s October elections, losing 20 seats but keeping enough for Trudeau to remain prime minister.
Trudeau’s office confirmed to Canadian media outlets on Thursday that he would “be trick or treating with the kids, but not going to Rideau Hall [the official residence of the Canadian monarch and the Governor General of Canada] or doing a photo op.”
Canadian broadcaster Global News noted that Trudeau had previously celebrated Halloween in disguises as “as Han Solo, Clark Kent, Sherlock Holmes and the pilot from The Little Prince.”
— CBC Politics (@CBCPolitics) October 31, 2019
The decision not to wear a costume this year appears to be an attempt to avoid further criticism for a history of adopting, in addition to blackface, the traditional clothing of people from India, China, the Philippines, the greater Middle East, and indigenous Canadian communities.
— CBC Politics (@CBCPolitics) September 27, 2019
In the alleged “Harry Belafonte” costume, Trudeau appears to be wearing an Afro wig, a hairstyle that Belafonte did not wear.
Justin Trudeau in high school. In blackface. Performing Day-O.
He has apologized for putting on blackface, says he didn’t think it was racist at the time, he does now. pic.twitter.com/8Agojx2yMG
— Natasha Fatah (@NatashaFatah) September 19, 2019
Following the publication of those images, Global News obtained a video that appeared to show Trudeau prancing around in blackface, bell-bottom pants, and an Afro wig. The video remains undated to this day, as Trudeau, at a press conference addressing the controversy, appeared not to remember the occasion, though he did not deny the authenticity of the footage.
“It is obvious that this is something that was deeply regrettable,” Trudeau said. “I am wary of being definitive about this because the recent pictures that came out, I had not remembered.”
“And the question is, ‘How can you not remember that?’” Trudeau added, appearing to ask himself but not answering.
Trudeau attributed the fact that he repeatedly wore blackface to “the layers of privilege that I have” that blinded him and apologized to those offended, but refused to step down from the leadership of the Liberal Party or face any professional consequences.
The scandal prompted heavy criticism from civil rights groups in the United States. Al Sharpton rejected Trudeau’s apology and agreed with the suggestion that all American presidential candidates should have to face the question of if they have worn blackface in the past, how often, and why. Former President Barack Obama, however, endorsed Trudeau, without mentioning the scandal.
Trudeau severely weakened his party in Parliament, but managed to retain the prime ministership.
The blackface scandal distracted from a litany of corruption scandals that have plagued Trudeau since he took office in 2015. Most recently, Trudeau faced criticism for allegedly pressuring the government to stop an investigation into the Canadian construction company SNC-Lavalin, firing the official in charge of the investigation for doing her job. Jody Wilson-Raybould, a member of Canada’s First Nations community, has since run for parliamentary office and won a seat in October.
Trudeau also survived severely breaking ethics rules in 2017 by accepting a ride on a private helicopter belonging to the Islamic leader the Aga Khan to fly to his private island for a New Year’s Eve celebration with family. Trudeau had embarrassingly delivered a national speech urging Canadians to “ring in the new year together” before flying to the Caribbean for the festivities. His disappearance triggered a mild panic before his administration confirmed that he was indeed safe and in the Bahamas.
A year before the Bahamas scandal, Trudeau faced another wave of ethics concerns after attending a lavish fundraiser for the Pierre Trudeau Foundation, named after his father, the late leftist prime minister. Also attending the fundraiser were several wealthy Chinese businessmen who used the occasion to lobby Trudeau against Canada’s ethics laws.