UPDATED: Halifax-Chebucto MLA responds to picture controversy

HALIFAX – A provincial politician in Nova Scotia became emotional Monday as he discussed a photo of himself sitting on the lap of a blackface Christmas character that he deleted from his Twitter account after taking heat for the posting.

Liberal member Joachim Stroink tweeted the picture of himself and his wife at a Dutch Christmas event Sunday in Halifax, which he said he has attended for several years to mark the start of the holiday season.

The picture showed a smiling Stroink sitting on the lap of Zwarte Piet, or “Black Pete,” a Dutch character who has been at the centre of debate in the Netherlands.

A traditional song refers to the character as a “servant” to the elderly St. Nicholas, but in recent years those references have largely been replaced with the idea that he is black from chimney soot as he scrambles down to deliver toys and sweets for children who leave their shoes out overnight.

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At a news conference, Stroink fought back tears and said the use of blackface is unacceptable and there is no place for it in the province’s and in Dutch culture.

The photo, screen grabs of which were making the rounds on social media, generated instant condemnation on Twitter, with many saying Stroink should have recognized the sensitivity around the image despite its cultural significance in the Dutch community.

READ: Social media reaction to the photo

Stroink initially addressed the social media controversy early on Monday in a public Facebook post:

*With a file from Global News’ Gwyneth Dunsford