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HomeBusinessWilson-Raybould, Philpott and May weigh-in as Trudeau faces campaign crisis over racist yearbook photos

Wilson-Raybould, Philpott and May weigh-in as Trudeau faces campaign crisis over racist yearbook photos

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Bob Mackin 

The day after the anniversary of Justin Trudeau’s attempt to convince then-Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to quash a corruption prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, the Liberal leader was facing crisis on the campaign trail.

Justin Trudeau’s yearbook embarrassments (Brebeuf/West Point Grey)

Yearbook photographs had emerged earlier on Sept. 18 of Trudeau in blackface at a Montreal high school talent show and in brownface under a turban as a high school drama teacher in Vancouver.

“I was extremely disappointed, it’s awful,” Wilson-Raybould told reporters after a campaign rally at the Hellenic auditorium in her Vancouver-Granville riding. “When I first saw it I didn’t think it was real. But I would say that I am incredibly proud to be an indigenous person in this country, one that has experienced racism and discrimination and it’s completely unacceptable for anybody in a position of authority or power to do something like that.”

The brownface photograph from 2001 was the year after filmmaker Spike Lee’s feature Bamboozled sparked a debate over blackface and the portrayal of people of colour in pop culture. 

In 2000, the year before Trudeau’s Vancouver yearbook photograph, a debate raged in the U.S. and Canada over blackface in the history of popular entertainment after filmmaker Spike Lee explored the topic in his feature Bamboozled.

Wilson-Raybould was joined at the rally by another independent, her former Liberal caucus-mate Jane Philpott. Philpott, who is running in Markham-Stouffville, called the image of Trudeau “highly disturbing.”

“The act of racism as well as the fact it’s been hidden all these years, those were concerning things. the position of prime minister is a position of high esteem and we expect the versify best of our leaders,” Philpott said. 

Ex-Liberal Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould (waving) joined fellow independent candidate Jane Philpott and Green Party leader Elizabeth May at a Sept. 18 Vancouver rally (Mackin)

Green Party leader Elizabeth May was a surprise guest at Wilson-Raybould’s rally, billed a Night of Independents. May said if the photographs had portrayed a candidate other than the party leader, the Liberals would have ejected the candidate.

“The distraction value of this worries me in a democracy, we should be talking about the issues,” May said. “It’s a different matter when it is the prime minister who is in a photo that is clearly racist and offensive at every level. I hope that he can demonstrate, not just contrition, but explain how anyone already a high school teacher could fail to see that was racist.”

Asked if Trudeau is a racist, May replied: “He, at that point in his life, I think you’d have to say he was unconsciously racist. I would not say today the man I know is a racist, but I could not have imagined that photo either.”

On the Liberal campaign charter jet, Trudeau told reporters that he should not have painted his face and should have known better. “I’m really sorry,” he said.

For May, that was not enough. 

“He’s apologized now for a photo taken a stone’s throw from here at West Point Grey Academy. He’s not apologized for pressuring the attorney general and committing an ethical breach that is a significant and serious offence this year,” May said. “I’d like to hear an apology for that.”

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