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World

How Canadians Are Reacting To Trudeau Brownface Scandal

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is asking for forgiveness after images of him emerged in which he had darkened his skin with makeup.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: I have to recognize that I let a lot of people down with that choice, and I stand here today to reflect on that and to ask for forgiveness.

SHAPIRO: Trudeau just launched his reelection campaign a week ago and was already preparing for a tough fight. To talk about how Canadians see their prime minister now, we are joined by Kristy Kirkup in Ottawa. She's a national affairs reporter for The Globe and Mail newspaper. Hi there.

KRISTY KIRKUP: Hello.

SHAPIRO: So the first photo to emerge was a 2001 yearbook from a private school where Trudeau was a teacher. He was 29 at the time. And in this picture, he is wearing a turban and robe and dark makeup. It is an "Arabian Nights" themed party. Beyond saying he made a bad choice, how has he explained his actions?

KIRKUP: Well, he had a lengthy news conference in Winnipeg today in, you know, an effort to try and address this controversy, which clearly is making international headlines and garnering a tremendous amount of attention. He is asking for forgiveness. He is saying that he hurt people. He's acknowledging that he has caused pain to people of color who may see themselves, you know, feeling like they're mocked as a result of this.

And I should mention, Ari, that it wasn't just the image that was released by Time magazine that you mention, the Aladdin "Arabian Nights" image; there has since been an additional image, as well as a video, that was released by a Canadian news outlet today which the Liberal Party has confirmed is indeed Justin Trudeau completely covered in makeup all over his face and his arms. And they...

SHAPIRO: And so how is the accumulation of evidence affecting his response and the reaction of the Canadian people?

KIRKUP: Well, he came out with a news conference on Wednesday evening, when the Time magazine article came out, and he acknowledged, you know, what was contained within that article. But he went much further today in his apology because this is clearly igniting an enormous firestorm, politically, for Justin Trudeau. He is getting completely - you know, he's being criticized in a huge way by his political opponents here, including one of the leaders here who is actually a turbaned Sikh, who is the first non-Caucasian leader that Canada has ever had.

SHAPIRO: And what about from voters? What has the reaction of people in Canada been to this?

KIRKUP: Well, this is early hours. Justin Trudeau is hoping that his apology is going to be enough, but I have a feeling he's going to be saying, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, for a long time because it's not until the end of October that Canadians will head to the polls. Again, we don't know the impact of not only the release of these images and the video but also, again, whether or not the apology is going to stick with Canadians.

SHAPIRO: Right.

KIRKUP: But people are definitely expressing outrage here.

SHAPIRO: Trudeau has built a reputation as a politician who embraces diversity and welcomes refugees. Does this threaten to undermine that?

KIRKUP: It absolutely threatens to undermine that, and we're hearing that from politicians here, politicians of color. There are people within his own caucus that are standing by him, people of color that are saying that he apologized and he made a mistake. But, definitely, this really serves to undermine his credibility as a leader who has really talked about countering intolerance and racism. And he says he wants people to continue to see him as an ally in this fight.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, are there any signs of fracturing within his own party, any chance that somebody else might lead the party into this election?

KIRKUP: That, we don't know. Again, people are, within the caucus today, coming out and saying that he made a mistake, that he's apologized and that they support him. And he is staying on as Liberal leader as his party seeks reelection. But, again, we don't know if there will be additional images that come out.

SHAPIRO: Right.

KIRKUP: He said today he can't say definitively how many there are.

SHAPIRO: All right. Kristy Kirkup with The Globe and Mail speaking with us from Ottawa.

Thank you.

KIRKUP: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BLACK KEYS SONG, "SO HE WON'T BREAK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.