Trudeau said wearing blackface was something he “deeply, deeply” regrets but insisted he’s not the man he was years ago.
“Darkening your face, regardless of the context of the circumstances is always unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface,” Trudeau said during a press conference in Winnipeg.
The apology comes after Global News published a video shot in the early 1990s showing Trudeau in what appears to be dark makeup.
Two other photos surfaced Wednesday night, including a black-and-white photo yearbook photo from 2001 for West Point Grey Academy, the school Trudeau taught at, that was published by Time magazine.
Here is the full transcript of Trudeau’s apology in English, minus the remarks in French, and a Q & A with reporters:
Reporter: Last night on the plane when we asked you if that picture that emerged in the Time report was the only time you had done this, you left us with the impression there was only one other incident and since then, Global News has released a video which seems to show that there was at least a third incident. So exactly how many times have you darkened your skin with makeup in an act that you have yourself describe as racist?
Trudeau: I shared the moments that I recollect it but I recognize that it is something absolutely unacceptable to do and I appreciate calling it makeup but it was blackface and that is just not right. It is something that people who live with the kind of discrimination. That far too many people do, because of the colour of their skin or their history or their origins or their language or their religion, face on a regular basis and I didn’t see that from the layers of privilege that I have and for that I am deeply sorry and I apologize.
Reporter: Mr. Trudeau. How many times is it? Just the three that we know about or are there more incidents? Because you know people are looking for them and if a candidate were to come forward now with this in their history, would you allow them to run for the Liberals in this election?
Trudeau: I think that’s a…that’s a…that’s a question that we would look at every step of the way. I think examining the case-by-case situation, examining the actions that someone has taken. I am certainly conscious that in my political career as a leader and indeed as prime minister who’s taken many concrete actions to fight against racism, to fight against intolerance, to fight against anti-black racism, specifically, to recognize unconscious bias and systemic discrimination that exists in Canada and elsewhere, to work to overcome and recognize intersectionality so people live within it in a way that so many of us simply cannot understand or appreciate the micro-aggressions and the challenges being faced. So even though we’ve moved forward in significant ways as a government, what I did, the choices I made, hurt people.
Trudeau: Hurt people who thought I was an ally. I am an ally but this is something that obviously I deeply regret and I never should have done.
Reporter: Mr. Trudeau, yesterday you said that you didn’t realize in 2001 that it was wrong on brownface but now you do realize it is wrong and I’m wondering when did it dawned on you that it is wrong?
Trudeau: I think it’s difficult to become a politician where you spend as much time as you will do, working hard to represent people, working hard to getting to know a community like the community I have the honour of representing Papineau, where there is extraordinary diversity, extraordinary challenges and yes extraordinary intolerance — even in a city like Montreal, in a country like Canada — that people live with every day and as I’ve learned to not just represent people, but to fight for them and to try and build a better community and a better society. I’ve learned every day that it is unacceptable to engage in this sort of behaviour.
Reporter: When you first ran and in capital in 2008 and later when you ran for the leadership in 2015, presumably there was a vetting process. I’m wondering if you thought enough about this issue that you volunteered that to in the vetting process, or did you ever declare that this had happened?
Trudeau: I never talked about this. Quite frankly, I was embarrassed. It was not something that represents the person I’ve become, the leader I try to be, and it was really embarrassing.
Reporter: You said just a few minutes ago that you told us last night on the plane that of all of the different instances that you recalled, have you since been made aware or remembered of other instances? And if so, how many?
Trudeau: I guess, I think it is obvious that this is something that was deeply regrettable. I am wary of being definitive about this because the recent pictures that came out I had not remembered, and I think the question is how could you not remember that. The fact is I, didn’t understand how hurtful this is to people who live with discrimination every single day.
Trudeau: 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. I have dedicated my leadership and my service to Canada, to try and counter intolerance and racism everywhere I can, but this has been a, personally, a moment where I’ve had to reflect on the fact that wanting to do good and wanting to do better simply isn’t good enough, and you need to take responsibility for mistakes that hurt people who thought I was an ally. Who, hopefully, many of them still consider me an ally, even though this was a terrible mistake.
Reporter: I just would like you to answer a very basic question. You’ve done this all obviously more than more than two times. Why?
Trudeau: I think, when we recognize when we reflect on mistakes we made in the past, that’s a question that we’re always gonna be asking — why did we do that? Why did we think it was OK? Why did we think it was a good idea at the time? It wasn’t a good idea, it was a terrible idea. It was something that minimizes and takes advantage of a reality that I have not had to live with, of being discriminated against, of being marginalized or being judged for the colour of my skin.
For my language, my background, I come from a place of privilege and I have endeavoured in my life to put the advantages and the opportunities I’ve been given to serve this country to fight for people’s rights. And I have to recognize that I let a lot of people down with that choice and I stand here today to reflect on that and to ask for forgiveness.
Reporter: Mr. Trudeau, there’s a bit of confusion about the timeline of all of this. I’m just wondering, when you first told your campaign staff that there are these images of you out there that could be embarrassing if they were to come out in an election campaign? Did you know about this in 2015? Did you know about this before then? When did you tell those people?
Trudeau: As I said, I was embarrassed. Particularly given the person that I’ve become and the leader I try to be that fights for people’s rights and defends people against intolerance and racism, and I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone because I’m not that person anymore. I’m someone who understands the deep hurt caused by actions like that to people who live with discrimination every single day. When we found out that Time magazine was looking for a picture of that event, I told my staff, but ultimately the call is mine on when to talk to people, when to act on things, and the buck stops with me and I take responsibility.
Reporter: You had a privileged upbringing. You went to good schools. Your father was prime minister and an internationalist and I’m wondering if he knew that you were doing this in high school, appearing in blackface, and what he thought about it and if he if he didn’t know, what do you think he would have thought about it?
Trudeau: My father raised me to try and defend people’s rights. One of our family mottos has always been “provide counterweights.” That was the reason he gave for why he chose to go to Ottawa in 1965, when all the power tended to accrue towards Quebec City in the Quiet Revolution and Quebeckers becoming strong and staying in Quebec. He said, no, we need to provide counterweights and if you’re strong, you need to go where your strength is most needed. That is the way he raised me and I certainly have tried to use that privilege that you talk about, the opportunities that I’ve had in my life to put them in service of people who didn’t have the kinds of opportunities that I have. That’s the kind of leader and the kind of prime minister I’ve tried to be, the kind of man I’ve tried to be, certainly the kind of parent I’ve tried to be and in my conversations with my kids.
Reporter: Charles Elliott with The Globe and Mail. In 2001, students were being expelled for wearing blackface and brownface from schools. There was also a Spike Lee movie about it in 2001. When did you realize that blackface was racist?
Trudeau: As I’ve said, the privilege of representing the community of Papineau, a extraordinarily multicultural community where any given crowd looks a lot like this crowd here in Winnipeg, have people, every different background, every different origin and the responsibility of not just sticking up for people of all different backgrounds but fighting for them and defending them, is something that made it very very clear to me. That minimizing or further marginalizing people by dressing up that way is absolutely unacceptable.
Reporter: As a follow-up, international media including the BBC, New York Times and Al Jazeera have published stories about this. Are you concerned that your behaviour, including not talking about this for 18 years publicly, has damaged Canada’s reputation? And if so, what will you do about it?
Trudeau: And we must all in Canada and everywhere around the world pledge ourselves to make sure we are fighting to make it better, but there’s lots of things we can and must do. That includes recognizing terrible mistakes of the past. That’s what I am doing; that is what I have tried to do as as prime minister in many occasions, and that’s why we’re going to continue to recognize, that still, Indigenous persons in this country face unacceptable living situations. Fewer opportunities. People who were promised shared partnership and stewardship of the land and respect were treated with everything, but for centuries — and we are beginning on the road of reconciliation now — but there is still a long way to go. Canadians, of who come from different parts of the world, whether they’re first generation or fifth generation, continue to face intolerance and marginalization. We have much more to do and I am not afraid of standing up in front of the world and saying, you know, Canada’s a pretty great country. Canada is the best countries in the world but we have a lot more work to do, all of us, and that is something that I will continue to pledge every single day I have to doing.
Reporter: I’m going to switch gears a little bit. Earlier this week, child advocates from across the country came together to say that the federal government is not doing enough to address youth suicides. If the Liberals are re-elected, will you implement a national suicide strategy prevention plan? And if so, when would you implement that and what would it look like?
Trudeau: We’ve made significant moves forward on this terrible tragedy. There are far too many communities across the country where children are taking their lives, where suicidal ideation, where lack of opportunities, societal and intergenerational inequities have led to unacceptable rates of youth suicides and tremendous tragedies for families for communities. We need to do a better job of addressing, and yes, we continue to move forward on things like national strategies to prevent youth suicide, but it takes more than just strategies. It takes concrete investments, which is why we’ve made investments in mental health service workers in a hotline to help out for Indigenous communities, in investments in education and in new schools and in new health centres and investments in Indigenous languages and culture. Recognizing that someone who is proud of their identity and their language and can use their language is far less likely to fall victim to a suicidal ideation and suicides, but the problem continues. We need to do much, much more and we will continue to do much, much more if we get that opportunity.
Reporter: Also this week, a new report was released in Manitoba showing that the rate that First Nations people are dying at younger rates than non-Indigenous people, but we know that that’s happening across the board in Canada and this continues to happen since the Liberals have been in power for the past four years. If re-elected, what are you going to do to change that?
Trudeau: We have made significant progress over the past four years on tangible things like lifting boil water advisories. We’ve lifted 87 long-term boil water advisories in Indigenous communities but there’s still more than 50 to go, although we feel we are on track to lifting all those that remain by the five-year mark in the spring of 2021 that we had committed to. We are investing in new schools, we’re investing in new health centres, we’re investing in better partnerships in support for First Nations and Indigenous post-secondary education. We’re working directly with the Metis nation, on economic development and investments. We’re moving forward on urban and Indigenous strategy as well to recognize all those Indigenous peoples who face real challenges in our urban environments.
Trudeau: There is so much more to do. We have taken meaningful steps forward that have made a significant difference in the lives of many Indigenous people but we are the first to recognize there is still a long way to go. What took generations and indeed centuries to break, it’s going to take time to fix and I am impatient but I also know the only way to move forward properly is in full partnership with indigenous peoples, is empowering Indigenous communities themselves to determine the right path forward for them and that sometimes takes a little bit longer because in many cases these communities have never been asked what it is that they want before, so we will work with them and be there to respect them to empower them and to build the future that they choose, not the future that we think from Ottawa would be the right future for them. That takes a little longer I will admit and every day, longer we take means more kids struggling for longer but we have to get this right. We have to do it in the full spirit of respect and partnership and that is what our government has been focused on and we’ll continue to be focused on.
David Akin: David Akin from Global News. Good afternoon Prime Minister. I know there’ll be a lot of people here today of all races who will be very happy to hear you denounce racism in all its form and your earlier behaviour. But the Prime Minister’s job was not created so you could work through your issues. Maybe it’s time that you realize you’re not the indispensable man. As the leader of the Liberal Party, as the Prime Minister, you have very many capable leaders in your party that perhaps you should step aside for some reflection for some more understanding and discussion. Have you considered asking someone else to lead the party in this election?
Trudeau: I spent the morning speaking with candidates with fellow liberals with allies with leaders within racialized communities across the country and I will continue to do the work that is necessary. To keep us moving forward in the right way, Canadians have an important choice to make.
Trudeau: Canadians have an important choice to make on Oct. 21 and I trust Canadians to make that right choice. I certainly hope that they will continue to support us in the work that we’re doing but they might not. and I know that that is something, that all Canadians get to decide and they get to bring in all sorts of different factors because every Canadian has a different way of looking at what matters to them and all I hope for is that Canadians take very seriously this responsibility. In this choice that we will make as a country, on October 21st and until then I will continue to put forward the very best team the very best approach that I can, to talk about how we’re going to build a better future for Canadians.
David Akin: I’d like to just follow up on the tone now of the campaign. It had a different tone until yesterday and that tone was largely involved with your party finding lots of very questionable behaviours from many of your opponents, one of them right here in Winnipeg, in Winnipeg North. Can you tell us how the tone is going to change as we start talking about things? Is it going to be so important to be digging up people’s social media posts of the last two, three, four years. Are you going to be focused on that or your party, pardon me, going to be focused on that?
Trudeau: Over the past three days we have put forward significant policy announcements on how we will continue to do the work that we laid out over the past four years work that resulted in creating over a million jobs and lifting 900,000 people out of poverty. We talked about raising the Canada Child Benefit, for kids under 1 to make sure that more parents have the ability to give all the opportunities to their kids. We talked about doubling our investments in child care so that there is better help for after school and before school care for parents who need it. And we’ve talked about supporting our seniors by increasing the Old Age Security by 10 percent for seniors, once they reach 75 because we recognize that costs continue to go up. We’re going to continue to make contrasts with our opponents. We’re going to continue to put forward strong pieces of policy that will demonstrate how we believe that investing in Canadians is the right path forward but we will always and continue to do that in a way that pushes back against intolerance and racism every step of the way.
Reporter: Mr. Trudeau the next time you’re in a mosque or temple. How can you look at those people and tell them that you fully understand what they’re going through?
Trudeau: That is a question I’ve had to answer from the very first time I had the opportunity to walk into a Gurudhwara or Mandir or a mosque in my riding and across the country. When people see someone who came from a place of privilege, asking for the opportunity to represent them in the House of Commons, asking them for the opportunity to be their voice. Even though obviously I’m someone who has had tremendous opportunities and advantages in my life and that conversation I had that started over 10 years ago when I started my journey to being a politician, is a conversation I need to continue to have every single day, whenever I meet a voter whenever I meet a Canadian, whenever I meet someone who is looking to me to serve them, to defend them to represent them and to build a better future with them, I look forward to continuing these conversations that I get to have with Canadians from coast to coast to coast every single day as I travel across this country.
Reporter: And just a follow up, you’ve apologized but what policies and procedures would you enact that are anti-racism? Because as you can tell there’s there’s people who have been affected by this.
Trudeau: Indeed, we were the first Canadian government to recognize the UN Decade for people of African descent, we were the first government to specifically put forward $25 million over the coming years for the black community to support grassroots community organizations and create opportunities for black youth. We put forward a national anti-racism strategy that talks about anti black racism, and talks about anti-Semitism, talks about Islamophobia. We have moved forward in a significant way in partnership with a broad range of Canadians of all sorts of diversities and their groups but we recognize as you point out there is always much more to do and we will keep doing it. The choices we make on building a better future for all Canadians continues to be something that we are very much focused on as a country, as a government and as a party, we will continue to focus on that.