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Calgary mayor says Justin Trudeau in brownface a ‘sucker punch;’ councillor calls it ‘nonsense’

WATCH: Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi explains how he felt seeing images of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in racist makeup.

Calgary’s mayor said he was disappointed when images surfaced on Wednesday night showing federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in brownface makeup.

“When I saw that picture last night, certainly it was a sucker punch,” Naheed Nenshi said on Thursday.

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“I think for me, and for a lot of people from minority communities, it really makes you start to think: ‘When is this ever going to end?’

“You work so hard, you go to school, you know you have to be just a little bit better than the next person because you have to prove just a little bit more. You succeed, you go on in your career, maybe even become the mayor, and then you’re reminded in the worst possible way that people you respect, people you admire, people who are allies in the battle with you, still need a little bit of education.”

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Nenshi went on to say it was “deeply troubling” that “we have not made the space in this country to have a real conversation about what is happening in terms of our diverse pluralistic ideal in this nation.”

READ MORE: Amarjeet Sohi ‘very disheartened’ by images of Trudeau in racist makeup

Nenshi said he doesn’t believe Trudeau is racist or had racist intentions when he put on the makeup.

“Do I think that the prime minister was acknowledging or actively being a racist? Do I think that he looked at himself in the mirror on the way to the party and said, ‘Wow, this is super racist and I’m going to do it anyway.’ Of course not. Of course not,” he said.

“But I think we have to ask ourselves why enough people in 2001 thought that was OK. Why enough people thought it was OK to take a picture of that. Put it in a yearbook. Why no one said anything about it for nearly two decades.”

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WATCH: There has been no shortage of reaction to images of Justin Trudeau in racist makeup. The photos and video have sparked strong reaction from residents and officials in Calgary. Christa Dao reports.

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Calgarians react to images of Justin Trudeau in racist makeup
Calgarians react to images of Justin Trudeau in racist makeup

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

The black-and-white image, published by Time magazine on Wednesday, was taken in 2001 and printed in a West Point Grey Academy yearbook, where Trudeau taught. Soon after the image was published, Trudeau publicly apologized aboard his campaign plane.

During the apology, Trudeau said there was a photo of him at a high school talent show performing the song Day-O “with makeup on.”

On Thursday morning, Global News released a 1990 video showing Trudeau wearing blackface makeup.

In a Thursday apology, Trudeau said he recognized racialized Canadians were hurt by his actions.

“What I did hurt them, hurt people who shouldn’t have to face intolerance and discrimination because of their identity,” he said. “This is something that I deeply, deeply regret.”

WATCH: Trudeau says he now believes the act of ‘darkening your skin’ to be ‘unacceptable’

Trudeau says he now believes the act of ‘darkening your skin’ to be ‘unacceptable’
Trudeau says he now believes the act of ‘darkening your skin’ to be ‘unacceptable’

Ward 3 Councillor Jyoti Gondek also had some choice words about Trudeau’s actions on Thursday, saying she was offended that a person representing the country didn’t have better judgement.

“I think it’s fantastic that he apologized,” Gondek said. “Do I think he’s a racist? No. Do I think he lacks judgement? Absolutely.

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“I think someone who grew up with a father who is a prime minister should know better. That’s what amazes me about this whole thing.”

Calgary Councillor Jyoti Gondek said she was offended by photos of Justin Trudeau in racist makeup.
Calgary Councillor Jyoti Gondek said she was offended by photos of Justin Trudeau in racist makeup. Global News

Gondek said in the middle of a federal election, incidents like this take the focus away from important issues like the economy. She said instead, voters are being distracted by “nonsense like this.”

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

“For me, the harm of an episode like this is the global perception of Canada,” Gondek said.

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“This is a man that we elected to represent us and this is the kind of stuff that’s surfacing.

“I don’t believe he’s a racist but I think he’s someone that likes to have fun and gets caught up and doesn’t think about the situations he’s going to put himself in and that’s not exactly leadership material.”

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau applauds after Kent Hehr was appointed Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence Minister during a swearing in ceremony Wednesday Nov.4, 2015 in Ottawa.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau applauds after Kent Hehr was appointed Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence Minister during a swearing in ceremony Wednesday Nov.4, 2015 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

In a statement to his volunteers, Calgary Centre MP Kent Hehr said the racist pictures demonstrate that Trudeau came from a place of significant privilege and misunderstanding of the racist history of blackface, saying “Clearly, it was wrong and racist.”

Hehr said he was deeply disappointed in Trudeau’s past actions.

“The person depicted in those pictures is not the Justin Trudeau that I know. He took the time to apologize for his offensive actions. I believe that he is truly remorseful. He has shown himself to be a champion against intolerance and racism for the past several years.”

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Hehr went on to highlight some of the work the federal Liberals have done, but acknowledged his letter does not excuse Trudeau’s actions from 20 years ago.

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“What I hope comes out of this is a conversation on the ways that discrimination can exist beyond overt racism.”

A photo showing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, second from right, at a 2001 costume party – his hands and face blackened with makeup — was published by Time Magazine Wednesday. 
A photo showing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, second from right, at a 2001 costume party – his hands and face blackened with makeup — was published by Time Magazine Wednesday.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

Social activist Saima Jamal said while the images were hurtful, “our understanding of what’s racist has changed vastly” in the past 20 years.

“When I see a prime minister, who even after all this coming out, immediately apologized and he apologized in a very heartfelt way, it wasn’t flimsy,” she said.

“I could see that he admitted that this was a huge fault of his and he apologized to us. I accept his apology and I am glad this came out to tell you the truth.

“Because it brought a lot of awareness… about how much it hurts when a white person puts on a black or brown face, and we needed awareness, and even if it was the cost of the prime minister, so be it. It made us more aware and we are going to be much more careful than we were a day before yesterday.”

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Hal Eagletail from the Tsuut’ina First Nation said he thought Trudeau was being ignorant as opposed to racist.

“Every Halloween we get that. It’s the same imaging of Indigenous people: headdress, costumes, native princess costumes,” he said.

“So it doesn’t change from year to year. But awareness is changing and that’s what’s shocking to people. There’s more awareness in this day and age.”

Eagletail said he doesn’t think Trudeau should resign in light of the scandal.

“He’s done more for Indigenous people than any other prime minister. I think of all the parties, I think Liberals will have a better heart to initiate programming for Indigenous people,” he said.

“Whenever you can raise awareness, we all benefit as a society. His actions inadvertently are bringing us closer together as a society and for that I’m grateful.”

— With files from Global’s Mercedes Stephenson and James Armstrong

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