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'People make mistakes': Burnaby Liberals stay with Trudeau after racist images emerge

Neelam Brar of Burnaby South and Terry Beech of Burnaby North-Seymour praised the PM for his apology
beech and brar
Burnaby Liberals Terry Beech and Neelam Brar are standing behind their leader after multiple images of him in brownface and blackface makeup emerged.

Two Burnaby Liberal candidates are standing behind their leader after multiple images of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to light showing him in racist blackface and brownface.

On Wednesday, Time magazine published a 2001 yearbook photo of Trudeau in brownface from a gala at the Vancouver private school where he taught at the time. In the picture, the then-29-year-old can be seen smiling in dark makeup and a turban. 

“I shouldn’t have done that. I should’ve known better, but I didn’t and I’m really sorry,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau told reporters it wasn’t the only time he had donned a racist costume, saying he had worn makeup to sing “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” as a teen at his high school talent show. An image of that performance has since been published.

Asked whether there had been other similar instances in his past, the prime minister said, “I think it’s been plenty.”

On Thursday, Global News published a video showing Trudeau in blackface in a third instance. A Liberal spokesperson told the outlet the video was from the early 1990s. 

For Neelam Brar, the Liberal candidate in Burnaby South, the apology was enough.

“The prime minister has already stated that he deeply regrets these events and he immediately apologized and recognized that he should have known better. We know Justin's a relentless advocate for women, minority groups and community groups, and this government has a proven track record for standing up for our rights. So I accept his apology. People make mistakes, and we need to assess him for his track record in current time period,” she said. 

“Obviously, I come from an ethnic minority group, and I grew up facing discrimination, even in Burnaby at Seaforth Elementary. And it's clear to me that these incidents and his intention was not to offend or harm anyone. It is important to recognize the context.”

Terry Beech, the Liberal incumbent in Burnaby North-Seymour, said there is no excuse for Trudeau’s past behaviour, but he also praised the prime minister’s apology.

Below is a transcription of a conversation the NOW had with Beech Thursday morning. It has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Burnaby NOW: What is your reaction to the now several photos of the prime minister in blackface and brownface?

Terry Beech: I want to be very clear. What the prime minister did 18 years ago is not OK. I don't intend to make any excuses for him. It was wrong. 

I paid very close attention to his apology yesterday. I'm happy that he didn't mince words in that apology.

At noon today, I'm going to be having an all-hands meeting with my team. It's going to be my core team with my wife and my daughter. I'm going to share my personal views and give an opportunity for everyone on the team to share their concerns and I'm going to make it very clear what my position is and again make sure that everyone on my team communicates that as well. 

What is your position?

That what the prime minister did 18 years ago is not OK. That it was wrong. I don't intend to make any excuses for him. And I watched his apology very closely yesterday and I was happy that he did not mince his words.

I didn't know him 18 years ago. I've worked very closely with the prime minister for the last six years. I can tell you that, when it comes to making life better for all Canadian, but especially for the traditionally disenfranchised, whether they be a different ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, financial background, etcetera – the prime minister has worked every day to make the lives of those people better and he's done that with his actions. So I have complete confidence in the prime minister but this obviously a disappointing day. 

Is that apology enough? Is it time to move on already?

I'm going to go down and sit with my team and then I'm going to go out this afternoon and I'm going to talk to my constituents and we'll see what everyone has to say. But that's pretty much all I have to say on this for now. I mean, I'm just waking up and thinking about this after a long night. 

Should the prime minister resign?

I have complete confidence in Justin Trudeau as the prime minister.

When you're out door-knocking, you're out campaigning, speaking to your constituents and especially those that are people of colour, how do you explain this to them?

I will say the same thing that I said to you. 

You brought up your wife and your kid, both of whom are people of colour themselves. How do you explain this to your family? Obviously your young one is too young to understand, but when your daughter grows up and you tell her that you stood behind the prime minister in this moment, how do you explain that?

I'm going to tell her the same thing that I told you today. I've had a very similar conversation with my wife. Ravi has confidence in Justin as well. She's gotten to know him very well over the last six years and has seen his actions and what he's done for our daughter's future and we're going to continue to fight for that future.

Have you ever worn blackface or brownface?


Have you ever been at a party where somebody has?

Not that I'm aware of.

Maybe not specifically blackface, but people sometimes wear racist costumes such as dressing up like an Indigenous person. Have you been witness to that or have you done it yourself?

I don't believe so. I haven't dressed up for Halloween since before I was a teenager. I have attended parties but I don't think so. 

In your words, what is it that's racist about dressing up like this?

I think the prime minister put it very well in his statement. It's an act that brings out stereotypes that were hurtful. I, in fact, to be completely honest with you, was looking up the history of blackface just this morning to see the renditions of it through the American theatre to it being used as a very racist theatric performance to it being later addressed in Hollywood and the acceptability over time. I was literally reading about it this morning. It's something that I'm also educating myself about. 

Is this the first time you've come to understand what blackface is?

No, I paid peripheral attention when the incident happened in the United States recently with [Virginia Governor Ralph Northam], but it's not a conversation or a question that I've dialogued on until this conversation with you today, other than with my wife last night. 

What is it about your life experience that this is the first time you've had to confront this to this level?

Why haven't I dealt with this specific question? I don't know. 

What happens after your all-hands-on-deck meeting? Do you just carry on campaigning as you were before?

I'm going to go out and knock on doors this afternoon and talk to my constituents and hear from them directly.