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Politics

Racism can become a political flashpoint — advocates say it needs to be a conversation

WATCH: Trudeau apologizes again after blackface video emerges

While images of Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau in racist makeup have prompted outrage across the country, advocates and academics say fury over the photos must go further to truly address discrimination in Canada.

Recently uncovered photos of the Liberal leader, dating back to his time in high school, show him in blackface and brownface and wearing a turban.

READ MORE: Video shows Trudeau in blackface in 3rd instance of racist makeup

It’s the latest controversy in a federal election campaign that has, at times, focused on racism.

Rinaldo Walcott, a professor at the University of Toronto, told Global News that has left people of colour feeling caught in the middle.

“Non-white people, or people of colour, we become an alibi in a fight we didn’t start,” Walcott said.

He noted that many people of colour, including himself, end up questioning whether those outraged and pointing fingers amid political controversies will take any real action.

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WATCH: Party leaders, Canadians react after images surface of Trudeau in racist makeup

Federal Election 2019: Party leaders, Canadians react after images surface of Trudeau in racist makeup
Federal Election 2019: Party leaders, Canadians react after images surface of Trudeau in racist makeup

“It’s a moment where the racist unconscience of this country is squarely on the table,” Walcott noted, adding that there are ways for people to show that they truly care about racism.

“We need to stop sugarcoating racism, and making it seem like it isn’t actually happening,” he said.

“Second, we have to stop buying the idea that people don’t know what they’re doing is racist. We live in the age of information.”

The first picture to emerge Wednesday depicted Trudeau in 2001, when he was a Vancouver private school teacher, at an “Arabian Nights”-themed event, clad in an elaborate turban and robe, his face, hands and neck covered in dark makeup.

The second instance, which he admitted to while apologizing for the first, is a photo of him at a high school talent show performing the song Day-O “with makeup on.”

READ MORE: Trudeau apologizes after 2001 brownface photo published by Time magazine

Global News then obtained video that was shot in the early 1990s, and appears to show Trudeau covered in dark makeup and raising his hands in the air while laughing.

Trudeau addressed the controversy for the second time Thursday.

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“The fact is I didn’t understand how hurtful this is to people who live with discrimination every single day,” he told reporters in Winnipeg.

“I have always acknowledged that I come from a place of privilege — but I now need to acknowledge that that comes with a massive blind spot.’’

One other way to truly have meaningful conversation stemming from political controversies such as this is to look at the larger issues at play, Balpreet Singh of the World Sikh Organization of Canada said.

WATCH: Singh says Canadians will decide if Trudeau apology is enough

Federal Election 2019: Singh says Canadians will decide if Trudeau apology is enough
Federal Election 2019: Singh says Canadians will decide if Trudeau apology is enough

“This incident is a good gateway to talk about racism in Canada,” Singh noted, adding there are several issues that politicians and regular Canadians have been sidelining.

“Racism in Canada is not just about politics, it’s a lived experience, and I think for too long it’s been ignored.”

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He pointed to the racist dialogue surrounding New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh, including recent media coverage questioning whether Canadians can accept a prime minister who wears a turban.

He also noted that politicians must stop avoiding issues when it’s “politically beneficial.” He pointed to Quebec’s ban on religious symbols for some public sector employees.

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“All of the national parties have been unacceptably quiet on the situation in Quebec with Bill 21,” he said.

Trudeau, Singh, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Green Party’s Elizabeth May have all denounced the law, but have not committed to the federal government launching a court challenge against it.

READ MORE: Singh won’t support a Scheer minority government after ‘disgusting’ same-sex marriage clip

But racialized minorities aren’t the only ones often caught in political crossfire — it’s a situation also faced by the LGBTQ2 community.

Scheer has continued to face questions about why he has not apologized or expressed any regret that during a debate on same-sex marriage in parliament in 2005, he compared the idea of two people of the same sex getting married to considering the tail of a dog as one of the dog’s legs.

When the Liberals pushed out the speech via a tweet from cabinet minister Ralph Goodale in August, Scheer did not apologize. Rather, he only said that the matter was legally closed in Canada and a Conservative government under his watch would not bring it back up.

On Thursday, Scheer told reporters: “I’ve never claimed to have handled every situation properly and obviously I continue to reflect on that and try to improve myself as a human being.”

WATCH: Scheer ‘extremely shocked and disappointed’ by Trudeau brownface photo

Scheer ‘extremely shocked and disappointed’ by Trudeau brownface photo
Scheer ‘extremely shocked and disappointed’ by Trudeau brownface photo

“In conducting myself do I regret anything in my life? Not a specific instance. I’m not pretending to be a perfect human being in every way, but nothing like this at all. No, no, nothing like that at all, nothing that would rise to this level.”

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Curran Stikuts, who works for Toronto-based LGBTQ2 advocacy organization The 519, told Global News politicians and media need to recognize that the fight for LGBTQ2 rights and equality is not over.

He noted that the community faces many challenges, including access to housing and health care, which federal leaders need to address.

Stikuts said that one of the most important aspects of addressing issues faced by minorities in Canada is inclusion.

“The voices of marginalized communities and equity-seeking groups — the folks who have the best understanding of how to address the problem — are all too often not in the room where decisions are being made.”

— With files from The Canadian Press