A photo has been released by TIME showing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a “Arabian Nights” themed party wearing blackface makeup with his black-painted hand on a woman’s chest.
The picture was taken in the spring of 2001 at a private party held at Vancouver’s prestigious West Point Grey Academy and released to TIME by a parent at the school. At the time Trudeau was a 29-year-old teacher at the school. The photo was published in the school’s 2000-2001 yearbook called The View.
According to the TIME article, the party was attended by school faculty, administrators and parents.
Liberal spokesman Cameron Ahmad confirmed the photo is of Trudeau, who is on a plane at the moment.
“It was a photo taken in 2001 while he was teaching in Vancouver, at a school’s annual dinner which had a costume theme of “Arabian Nights”,” Ahmad said. “He attended with friends and colleagues dressed as a character from Aladdin.
Trudeau told media that were with him on a flight from Halifax that he should have known better, but he didn’t.
“Obviously I regret that I did it and I’m really sorry I did,” Trudeau said.
He said that when he was in high school he dressed up in black makeup at a school performance.
“It’s something that I didn’t realize was racist at the time, but know I recognize it was something racist to do and I regret.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who was taking part in a town hall meeting when the news broke, said it’s becoming clear that Trudeau’s public persona may not be an accurate reflection of who he is.
“I think he needs to answer for it. I think he’s got to answer the question why he did that and what does that say about what he thinks about people who, because of who they are, because of the colour of their skin, face challenges and barriers and obstacles in their life,” Singh said.
“Who is the real Mr. Trudeau? Is it the one behind closed doors, the one when the cameras are turned off that no one sees?” Singh asked. “Is that the real Mr. Trudeau? Because more and more, it seems like it is.”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims wasted little time calling on Trudeau to explain the “deeply saddening” photo.
“The wearing of blackface/brownface is reprehensible, and hearkens back to a history of racism, slavery, and an Orientalist mythology that is unacceptable,” said executive director Mustafa Farooq.
“While we recognize that people can change and evolve over two decades, it is critical that the prime minister immediately and unequivocally apologize.”
Calls to the West Point Grey Academy have not been returned.