TORONTO — Images of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in blackface and brownface have tarnished Canada's international reputation and he should have confronted them long ago, former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne said on Friday.
Wynne, who supported and actively campaigned for Trudeau in 2015 when she was the Liberal premier, said in an interview that she was upset and angry to see the images, because Trudeau should have known better, especially by age 30.
She is thought to have delivered Trudeau crucial Ontario votes, though it came before her own popularity plummeted and her party was reduced from a majority government to not having official party status in the legislature last year.
In an interview, Wynne said she has a hard time believing that Trudeau's team didn't have already the images — three instances as recent as 2001 have emerged, and Trudeau has said he isn't sure if there are more.
"What a leader has to do is confront those things and make it clear to people who they are in the context of those things that they did," she said.
If the images had come out before 2015, Wynne can't say definitively if she would still have campaigned with him.
"It would have depended how it was dealt with," she said.
If Trudeau had come out and pre-emptively with the pictures, admitting to them and saying he was ashamed and sorry, "I think I could have gotten behind that because I do believe in his vision for the country," Wynne said.
Trudeau apologized profusely after three images emerged, first when Time magazine published a photo from 2001 of Trudeau at an "Arabian Nights"-themed event, his face and hands darkened with makeup. He has also admitted to wearing blackface in a high school performance where he sang Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat Song (Day O)." A third video published by Global News shows a young Trudeau again in blackface, from what he says was a costume day.
The news has generated international headlines, condemnation and mockery.
Wynne said she is worried about Canada's international reputation, given that people in other countries don't follow Canadian politics closely and therefore don't know about his policies.
"They kind of had him on this pedestal, which was unrealistic and ridiculous, and now he's fallen off that pedestal and so there's almost even more of an oversimplification on the international stage: 'He was perfect, and now he's the devil,'" she said.
"Our international reputation has been tarnished and he's going to have to do some work to get that back. Honestly, I don't know how that's going to happen."
People in the Liberal party are torn and upset — some are taking their Liberal signs off their lawns — but still supporting the party because it is bigger than one person, Wynne said.
"I don't believe that Justin Trudeau is a racist," she said. "I believe that he has worked very hard to have policies that are inclusive, to do things that make society better, make Canadian society better for people who have been marginalized...So these behaviours can't define him."
The candidates running to replace Wynne as leader of the provincial Liberal party are weighing in as well, with majority of them saying they are glad Trudeau has apologized.
"There's no question that those images are hurtful to people and I think that the conversation we're seeing coming out of this is a conversation that Canada needs to have," said Michael Coteau, who is black.
Mitzie Hunter, another leadership contender who is black, said in a tweet that what Trudeau did was wrong, but it is not representative of who he is and he has apologized.
"This is a teachable moment for all of us," she wrote. "I accept his apology and I hope Canadians do too."
Alvin Tedjo, who is of Indonesian descent, took a stronger tone in his statement.
"I am incredibly upset and disappointed in Justin Trudeau," he wrote. "Like many Canadians, I grew up looking different from everyone else, and I hate that the insensitive actions of the leader of our country, and of our Party, have created a painful reminder of that fact."
Tedjo said he would still vote Liberal next month because the party is more than one person.
Steven Del Duca criticized Trudeau's actions, but said his apology was sincere and he needs to work to earn forgiveness. Kate Graham issued a statement saying people are rightfully hurt by the images, but didn't slam Trudeau by name.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2019.