Yes, he’s made mistakes. So have you.
Alisha Samnani, Contributor
When I saw the image, my heart sank. The photograph radiates bliss, unawareness. A man, our prime minister, dressed up in some kind of “Arabian Nights” costume, with a smile that is the same today as it was in that old photograph. Oh yeah, and much, much darker skin than his own to accompany it. Dressing up in Brownface was unquestionably stupid, even for the early 2000s. But I don’t believe that Justin Trudeau is racist. This instance reflected an extreme lack of judgement.
Yes, he should have had this self-awareness much sooner than 2019. Many minority groups viewed Trudeau as someone on their side. He has done incredible things for pluralism here at home, and around the globe. As gut-wrenching as this incident is, however, it should have been the sole action that influenced your vote. He should be judged based on everything he has accomplished, and whether we, as citizens of this country, believe that he is capable of doing better in the future.
“What I did hurt them, hurt people who shouldn’t have to face intolerance and discrimination because of their identity,” said Trudeau in a statement to the press. “This is something I deeply, deeply regret.”
Beyond the swing of constituents’ votes, this image also raises another question about the history of racism in Canada. We’re trained to see this as a problem that only our neighbours to the south deal with. We have shielded the Canadian variant under politeness and good intentions. We shove it aside, pretend it doesn’t exist.
But even in Canada, people of colour often have to work a little harder to prove ourselves. It’s something we deal with, in an attempt to have better lives than our parents and our grandparents had.
Even people seen as allies can make mistakes. We don’t always know who truly understands and who doesn’t quite get it, even when they try their hardest. Here in Canada, although we have a multiracial cabinet and our political parties were in favour of taking in more people during the refugee crisis, we aren’t quite there as a nation. We’ve become more careless and less inhibited with our remarks, both on the internet and in person. It’s no longer individual, seemingly innocent questions about where we really came from. It has moved from small scale rhetoric into real policy.
In Quebec, a law prevents people with clearly visible religious attire from holding public sector positions, such as teachers and police officers. As unconstitutional as it seems, this law is protected by the “notwithstanding clause”—an ironic gift from the same Prime Minister Trudeau who brought us our official policy of multiculturalism. This clause prevents any legal challenges to Quebec’s new law.
True irony, however, is that while our national leaders offer empty remarks about their dislike of this law, they have yet to commit to any action over it. This includes Jagmeet Singh, the candidate whom this law would directly impact if he lived in Quebec. Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer used the concept of “provincial jurisdiction” as a crutch, like how “states’ rights” is used in the United States.
We as Canadians cannot raise arms over offensive things done years ago if we are unable to stand up to the discrimination and racism that is more blatant than ever. Racism is the tragic story of our lives. We cannot pick and choose when to stand against racism. It must be a constant.
Canada is not black and white. We are a diverse spectrum of colour. Embrace it. While we are a welcoming mosaic of nationalities, we are not without our own faults. Incidents from the past should not have coloured your vote. Let policy and action speak for itself. Use Justin Trudeau’s episode, and our own past missteps, to address the connection between individual action and justice for all.