It’s been a disappointing couple of weeks in Canadian politics.
The world got to see a glimpse of the type of person Prime Minister Justin Trudeau truly is, and that person is a man who engages in racist and anti-Black tropes.
We should not mince words about it – Blackface is dehumanizing form of anti-Black racism. And we should be aware that this reprehensible activity was carried out by a grown man.
Many have said that when we consider Trudeau’s actions, we should consider them in light of his record. I agree.
Let’s not forget that this Prime Minister appointed Bill Blair, Toronto’s former police chief and a staunch supporter of the anti-Black practice of carding, to his cabinet.
Trudeau also responded with what Member of Parliament Celina Caesar-Chavannes described as hostility and anger when she attempted to raise concerns with him. One of very few Black women to serve as an MP, Caesar-Chavannes ultimately left caucus.
Many tout Trudeau’s commentary on multiculturalism and treatment of refugees as laudable policies. But I want to remind readers that Trudeau’s talk about refugees did not always match his actions.
Significantly, Trudeau became ultimately hostile toward asylum seekers when Canada was seeing large numbers of Haitian refugees cross into Canada from the United States as a result of the Trump Administration’s decision to end the Temporary Protected Status humanitarian program.
Thousands of Haitian asylum seekers were detained, and many were deported. Not only did Trudeau change his tune on asylum seekers, many are unaware that the Trudeau government oversaw the winding down of a program protecting Haitians affected by the 2010 earthquake – similar to the one that Trump ended – during his first year in office.
The Trudeau government also legalized marijuana. But in so doing, Trudeau refused to commit to expunging cannabis convictions that disproportionately affect Black and Indigenous people in Canada, even while acknowledging that his own brother was able to escape possession charges as a result of privilege that BIPOC do not enjoy.
The examples go beyond his treatment of Black communities. Trudeau has also made disparaging remarks about Canada’s Indigenous communities.
Trudeau was the one who suggested, for example, the cutting of Indigenous Senator Patrick Brazeau’s hair after besting him in a charity boxing match because, “it has cultural significance for First Nations peoples” and because “it’s a sign of shame.” And then did it – in front of cameras.
Trudeau suggested during a town hall in Saskatoon in 2017 that the issue of primary import for Indigenous youth was “a place to store their canoes and paddles” during a time of numerous crises in Indigenous communities.
The supposedly feminist Prime Minister’s treatment of women in his caucus spawned a protest action by attendees of Daughters of the Vote in 2019, who turned their back on him as he addressed the House of Commons.
I know what some of you are thinking. But what about the fact that he apologized to Indigenous communities for residential schools? He is a champion of multiculturalism. He recognized anti-Black racism, and the UN decade for people of African descent.
It seems to me that Trudeau’s widely-publicized engagement with Black folks, Indigenous folks and people of colour always seem to be about promoting who he is, than about meeting the needs of those communities.
Just this past weekend former Liberal foreign policy advisor Omer Aziz revealed in a CBC interview the practices of Trudeau’s staff of referring to certain communities as “ethnic vote banks.”
Trudeau is willing to use our identities as a costume with which to build a brand, and to disregard us once it becomes time to take the legislative actions necessary to actually support our communities.
Considering his multiple forays into minstrelsy, his Blackface racism is not a one-off that can be simply forgiven. It is a cultural expression of anti-Blackness and racism that should be understood in the context of policies and actions that reveal that Black people are among his lowest priorities as a lawmaker. I hope that others consider the entire context of Trudeau’s racism as we head to the polls in October.
Sandy Hudson is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter–Toronto. She is currently studying law at UCLA.