Just over a week ago, it had emerged that a Conservative candidate in Brampton had offhandedly used an anti-gay slur in a Twitter post. The post in question was from 2010, when Arpan Khanna was still a university student.
Khanna didn’t deny that he had used the word, nor did he attempt to justify his actions. Instead, he released a statement that read: “I deeply regret the offensive language I usedd when I was a teenager. I have come to understand that creating safer and more inclusive spaces LGBTQ+ people in Canada happens in our homes, workplaces, on social media, and in the conversations we have every day. I apologize unequivocally.”
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However, to the Liberals, the apology wasn’t enough. In fact, they called it “disturbing” that the Conservatives continued to stand by their candidate.
Fast-forward seven days, and suddenly the Liberals have done a 180 on forgiveness and second chances. The idea of a meaningful apology making things right has gained a staggering amount of currency in Liberal circles.
After all, if the party were to hold true to the very standard it had demanded of their opponents just a week prior, it would be suddenly facing the nightmare scenario of finding a new leader a month out from election day.
It is now Justin Trudeau who faces his own, considerably larger, controversy: multiple examples of him having donned racist makeup. It’s the kind of thing that would surely have doomed any other candidate — including likely Trudeau himself, both as a candidate in the 2008 general election and probably even as a leadership candidate in 2013. Perhaps some politicians are, as the saying goes, too big to fail.
In an interview last year with CBC, following reports of a groping allegation against Trudeau (an allegation dating back to 2000, not long before Trudeau posed for the now-infamous photos and video), he declared that “there is no context in which someone doesn’t have responsibility for things they’ve done in the past.”
So what is the current Liberal position on one’s responsibility for past actions? What is the Liberal threshold for candidate suitability and sufficiently meaningful apologies? When is forgiveness acceptable?
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I suspect they are probably scrambling to now figure out the answers to all of those questions. The fact that they’ve been backed into this corner in the first place, though, is a testament to their own hypocrisy.
Trudeau’s own hypocrisy has been damaging enough. The supposed poster boy for tolerance and acceptance was somehow clueless as to the horribly racist connotations of blackface for a significant portion of his adult life. The same Justin Trudeau demanding his peers be held accountable for their actions and cast aside for past transgressions was, this whole time, hiding a closet full of his own racist transgressions.
The mad rush of Liberals to fall in line on this means they wear a lot of this, too.
Following the Khanna controversy (and before the emergence of the Trudeau photos), Conservative leader Andrew Scheer defended his approach, saying that “as long as someone takes responsibility for what they said, and addresses the fact that in 2019 some things that may have been said in the past are inappropriate today, that if anything they’ve ever said in the past caused any type of hurt or disrespect to any one community or another and have apologized for that, I accept that. I accept the fact that people can make mistakes in the past and can own up to that and accept that.”
One can judge whether Scheer himself is guilty of any hypocrisy based on his response to the Trudeau brown- and blackface controversy, but haven’t the Liberals — out of convenience and necessity — basically adopted that position as their own? And frankly, why shouldn’t that be the position that all parties hold to?
Ultimately, parties can decide who they wish to associate with. Moreover, voters can obviously be the final arbiter on whether past transgressions truly define a political candidate in the here and now.
Maybe there are some in politics who are truly beyond redemption. Hopefully, though, what emerges from this scandal is more of a willingness to at least accept that redemption is possible.