In two of Canada’s most diverse cities, a bellwether for Liberal fortunes, residents indifferent about Trudeau’s brown/blackface use
Photos by Mansoor Tanweer/Joel Wittnebel

In two of Canada’s most diverse cities, a bellwether for Liberal fortunes, residents indifferent about Trudeau’s brown/blackface use

In Brampton and Mississauga, two of the most diverse cities in the country and a bastion of Liberal immigrant support, home to a million visible minority residents, some 65 percent of the population, reaction to images of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wearing brownface and blackface at events in the early 2000s and 1990s has been mostly subdued. 

“I don’t really care,” said Jaqueline Everett, a retired, white Brampton resident. “It doesn’t bother me in the least. I feel that, yeah, he made a mistake, but it’s not as bad as [the statements] some of the guys have made.” Everett is displeased with Andrew Scheer’s comments on abortion, believing “that’s a pretty serious thing for us women.” She saw Trudeau’s profuse apologies as sincere.   

Candia Ndayizi, the Canadian-born daughter of immigrants from Burundi, feels the same way. “Because it happened a while ago, I don’t necessarily feel affected. I think it’s kind of interesting that … one side is holding so much weight in terms of the photo of brownface, also the video [apparently from the early 1990s] that came out.” Ndayizi has taken a stand against Scheer due to his opposition to birthright citizenship. She said she would prefer to vote for Trudeau, though she acknowledged Trudeau’s privileged upbringing and suggested that he may not “know any better.” 

Trudeau admitted as much during a press conference in Winnipeg earlier today.

“I didn’t see that from the layers of privilege that I have,” Trudeau said. “I have always acknowledged that I come from a place of privilege. I now need to acknowledge that that comes with a massive blind spot.”


Trudeau speaking during a party fundraiser in Brampton earlier this month.


And while media reports since the scandal broke Wednesday night have so far focused on analyzing whether Trudeau’s actions are racist, many comments on social media and traditional media showed Canadians were perhaps more concerned with how his privileged upbringing influenced Trudeau’s actions. It was widely acknowledged by Canadians that Trudeau’s actions were not motivated by racism. 

Many visible minority politicians in the Liberal party, while admitting his actions were wrong, to no one’s surprise, defended the party leader, labelling him as a champion of diversity. 

“I spoke with the Mr. Trudeau this morning. He acknowledged his mistake and he apologized. It is clear to me that he deeply regrets what he did,” said Sonia Sidhu, Liberal candidate for Brampton South. 


Sonia Sidhu, Liberal incumbent in Brampton South.


“I felt it to be very sincere,” Mississauga-Erin Mills incumbent Iqra Khalid told the media about Trudeau’s apology. “What happened 18 years ago does not take away from the last four years.”

“As I have gotten to know Justin, I know these photos do not represent the person he is now, and I know how much he regrets it,” said Harjit Sajjan, Liberal candidate for Vancouver South and former minister of defence.

However, there is growing concern being expressed about whether someone who has lived a life of privilege is truly able to relate to or understand perspectives outside of his entitled bubble.

Yasmine Roy, a South Asian-Canadian, is not impressed with the Liberal leader. “I think the reason why it’s problematic is because it’s reminiscent of the United States and their cultural history with blackface,” Roy began. “I think living in a country like Canada that’s multicultural and claims to be diverse, we have to be respectful of people’s cultural identities.” She is willing to forgive Trudeau but feels that “coming from a family that has a political lineage and a political background, I think he should have been more careful.”  

David Hamilton, who is African-Canadian, was not convinced by Trudeau’s apology because “when this guy talks, he always talks with a smirk on his face, with an act, with his eyebrows raised. People are supposed to be sorry for him. It’s all an act to me.”

Lisa Thompson, who is also Black, agreed with Hamilton. Trudeau was her chosen candidate in 2015, but she has soured on him since and now sees him as a hypocrite. She felt Trudeau’s apology was not sincere “because, had it not come to light, he would not have apologized about it. And he knew it was wrong when he was doing it.” 

Across Mississauga, residents expressed varying levels of support for the Liberal leader. 

“My initial reaction was, I was really shocked. And my initial reaction was also, at the same time, that okay, maybe this is something, as a person who was young (even though he was really not a youth) [he did] by mistake, or bad judgment, or really, just being silly,” said Mississauga resident Taha Ghayyur. “Even though it’s very offensive, you can forgive a person doing it once. The problem is when you start seeing this as a pattern, and there’s been a few other times where this has happened, that’s when it becomes really hurtful for a lot of racialized communities. So even though I may not have felt it as much, I know there are others who have. And to them, this was a very racist act.” 

Abacus Data’s David Coletto told City News that one in five respondents to a recent poll said they wanted the Liberals re-elected, but one in three said they’re undecided or not paying attention.

Candidates for all parties in Peel have been slow to respond to requests for comment from the media, though some have taken to Twitter to express their feelings and the party line. 

Murarilal Thapliyal, the Conservative candidate for Brampton West, retweeted Andrew Scheer’s brief speech, repeating his leader’s words. He tweeted: “Wearing brownface is an act of open mockery and racism. It was just as racist in 2001 as it is in 2019.” Tom Varughese, campaigning in Mississauga–Malton, shared the same video with almost identical wording. Hani Tawfilis, Conservative candidate for Mississauga–Erin Mills, also shared the video and tweeted: “What Canadians saw this evening is someone with a total lack of judgement and integrity and someone who is not fit to govern this country,” a quote from the Scheer video. None of the candidates responded to requests for comment from The Pointer.

According to The Globe and Mail, Mississauga Centre candidate and former Liberal MP Omar Alghabra was one of the people Justin Trudeau called before his press conference on Wednesday, in which he admitted to painting his face on those occasions and apologized for his behaviour, saying, “This is something that I deeply, deeply regret.” 

Alghabra, who was born in Saudi Arabia and is of Syrian descent, offered the Liberal leader advice. “I told him to be upfront and to own the mistake. As disappointing as it is, it’s not that hard for me to get over it,” Alghabra said on Wednesday night, “because I’ve seen him act in public and in private, and I’ve seen what he’s done for many people who are marginalized or being victimized by stereotypes or racism.”

Sharing the Globe and Mail article on Twitter and referencing his own experience of descrimination, Alghabra joined Sidhu and Khalid as the only Liberal candidates in Mississauga or Brampton to express an opinion on the event — or even acknowledge it. 

Saranjit Singh, NDP candidate for Brampton East, told The Pointer that he found Trudeau’s “pattern” of insensitive photographs to be “troubling.” “I’ve had a bunch of folks talk to me about it today. They’ve expressed a lot of concern, wondering why anyone would ever think something like that was ever appropriate. It really brings me and a lot of folks back to the racism that we have endured — either historically or are enduring today. I think about all the kids being bullied in school right now because of the way that they look — their race, their religion, their gender expression — that’s what my mind went to.” 


Saranjit Singh, NDP candidate for Brampton East.


With resignations often demanded from candidates whose controversial pasts resurface, Singh said that decision regarding Trudeau isn't up to him. “I think it’s really up to Canadians, at the end of the day.” 

The photographs and videos of Trudeau come less than a week after an old social media post from Brampton North Conservative candidate Arpan Khanna exposed the inclusion of a homophobic slur in 2010. When that story appeared online, Khanna’s Liberal counterpart, Ruby Sahota, who has yet to respond to The Pointer’s request for comment on the Liberal leader's actions, called for Khanna to step down. 

It’s hard to say how much the Trudeau photos are likely to affect the vote. Though pollsters try, there is no hard science to suggest which scandal might define a campaign and which could be forgotten by election day. Brampton and Mississauga, two of Canada’s most diverse cities, like much of the rest of Canada, seem ready to move on from Trudeau’s past actions. 

Ultimately, voters will make their own decision and share it with the world on Oct. 21 when Canada goes to the polls.

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