The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Bull & Bear and its editorial board.
Content Warning: This article deals with sensitive topics such as racial caricature.
The thing is, I never liked Trudeau.
I like him even less now than I did in 2015, when it was better him than Harper. At that time, I was sixteen, didn’t know very much about politics at all, and didn’t claim to know very much either. However, the one thing I was sure of, and that I’d rely on for the most part in any conversation about that upcoming election, was that “the man really is about pluralism. In that respect, he means what he says. I think it’s a very good thing.”
I still think that’s true. The man really is about pluralism. It is a very good thing. He did mean what he said when, among other initiatives, he launched the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, implemented a federal gender violence strategy, gender-split his cabinet 50/50, included Sikh and Indigenous people, and has also been vocal about his support for the LGBTQ+ community and climate activism.
Trudeau’s been consistent in taking every opportunity to prove that he’s serious about his commitment to social justice, either through policy or public relations, even if it all can sometimes seem overboard such as when “mankind” becomes “peoplekind”
Generally, Trudeau’s been consistent in taking every opportunity to prove that he’s serious about his commitment to social justice, either through policy or public relations, even if it all can sometimes seem overboard such as when “mankind” becomes “peoplekind,” and most of us are frowning at the pictures of him romping around India in a bright red kurta with his hands pressed in namaste.
Not to say that these funny little hiccups are the only things that make me frown with regard to his public image. I think a lot of it has been a smart way of covering up some very troubling contradictions—contradictions like building the Trans Mountain pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory, effectively rescinding important promises he made concerning First Nations sovereignty.
Now, we also have to talk about blackface: a stereotype with roots in Canada, but a singularity in the history of Canadian politics thus far.
Last month, a photo surfaced of the prime minister in blackface at an Arabian Nights-themed party in 2001, at a school at which he was teaching. Now there are three pictures and a video, two of which are from different events from some years before, and all of which are deeply unsettling.
Liaisons between famous politicians and personae non gratae is a story as old as time. There’s a wealth of these in very recent memory that have condemned many household names to long bouts of shame and public criticism: Bush and Powell, Trump and Putin, Clinton and Lewinsky, Hilary and all those people in her emails…the list goes on. In proper Canadian fashion, however, our liaison seems to be playing out on a smaller scale. Our’s is a thing of Trudeau and Trudeau, and that’s a volatile, complicated, slightly abstract point of contention.
We now had to wonder whether or not this whole campaign had been anything more than just that PR, or whether it was all a hoax
It may be more than slightly abstract. All of a sudden, we were confronted with the question of whether or not Justin Trudeau was a racist. It was a strange feeling to be having after four years of the kind of PR he was running, and strange coming from the man who had at times been sensitive to a fault. We now had to wonder whether or not this whole campaign had been anything more than just that PR, or whether it was all a hoax. What if the very same man went home from a long day of supporting LGBTQ+ rights then danced around in blackface at dinner parties with his white friends at night? Suddenly, we were pressed for answers.
A lot of people said yes; with photo evidence, the man’s a racist and a phony.
And I said no, and that the man is who he’s said he’s been. At least, who he’s been since 2016.
Again, this is a conflict between Trudeau and Trudeau. There was a Trudeau then, in 2001, and there’s a Trudeau now, in 2019. The question is whether there’s a continuity in his degree of racial, historical, and cultural sensitivity throughout that eighteen-year gap—whether the mind that walked him into that party that day is the same that walked him into office in 2016.
It seems highly unlikely. He’s done too much to contradict that possibility: he did launch the Inquiry, did racially diversify his cabinet. He has been continuously public in his commitment to supporting diversity in Canada on an institutional level. He isn’t a beacon of social justice by any means, but I also don’t believe he’s a bigot.
Trudeau can’t escape the fact that he, on three separate occasions, engaged in behaviour that shined circus lights on a dark history of oppression
As lame as it sounds, it seems to me that the more likely possibility is that Justin Trudeau was once eighteen years younger, clearly buried under “layers of privilege,” and, sitting there six feet deep, seriously lacked things like judgement, self-awareness, a great degree of socio-historical sensitivity, and shame. Scheer was right when he said that the first video to surface “was as racist then in 2001 as it is now.”
Being young and dumb and privileged doesn’t make it excusable, and, of course, there’s still a price to pay for these things; Trudeau can’t escape the fact that he, on three separate occasions, engaged in behaviour that shined circus lights on a dark history of oppression.
However, since taking office, he has implemented certain policies. Now, four years after his initial term, I look back at the relevant policies and I say to myself that “the man really is about pluralism. In that respect, he means what he says.”
It’s precisely what he’s done since he’s been in office that allows us to get a sense of what he’s liable to do if he stays there. There’s nothing there that implies any possible discontinuity in the future. Since taking office, Trudeau has remained, like it or not, virtually the same as who he presented himself as being in 2016.
So has what we’ve seen proven his words and his actions since taking office to be disingenuous? Have they somehow invalidated his commitment? Ultimately, this remains a matter of opinion. Despite this, it’s important to also take his political track-record into account when we all go vote on the 21st. There are good reasons to want to vote Trudeau out of office, including his policy and character. However, I personally don’t believe his skirmishes with racial caricature should be the deciding factor.