Justin Trudeau, now the prime minister of Canada, appears in dark makeup on his face, neck and hands at a 2001 ‘Arabian Nights’-themed party at the West Point Grey Academy, the private school where he taught. Photo by TIME

Maple Ridge’s Ruimy defends embattled prime minister

Racial issue ripples to Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows riding

Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge Liberal party candidate Dan Ruimy is defending Prime Minister Justin Trudeau against charges of racist behaviour after photos appeared of Trudeau in costume wearing brown makeup.

Incumbent MP Ruimy said he has been proud to be part of a government that combats racism, has brought 40,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, and last year pledged $300 million in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis as that ethnic minority flees Myanmar.

“On the world stage and in Canada, we stand against racism,” said Ruimy.

Last year, Trudeau delivered an official apology for Canada’s role in turning away 907 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution on the MS St. Louis in 1939, Ruimy pointed out. About 500 ended back in Germany, and 254 died in concentration camps.

This apology was personally important to Ruimy, who is Jewish.

“My vision of Canada is one of inclusiveness,” he said, adding he would not be running if he didn’t think the party leader shared that vision.

Images of Trudeau wearing a brown-face and an ethnic costume emerged as an election issue Thursday, starting when a 2001 brown-face photo was published by Time magazine. It was taken at a school event in Vancouver at West Point Grey Academy, where Trudeau was a teacher, at a gala with an Arabian Nights theme. Trudeau was wearing a turban and dark makeup. There are now three different occasions that are being reported where he wore the dark makeup in the past

Trudeau apologized Thursday, saying that at the time, he didn’t think his actions were racist. Now, he said, he recognizes wearing brown-face is racist and regrets his actions.

“I shouldn’t have done that,” he said. “I should have known better but I didn’t and I’m really sorry.”

Ruimy said Trudeau has “owned” the mistakes and apologized.

“I want to focus on what we as a government are doing,” said Ruimy.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, the first non-white leader of a Canadian federal party, said Trudeau’s public persona may not be an accurate reflection of the real man.

“I have to really point out what we’re seeing now is an ongoing pattern of behaviour that’s really going to hurt Canadians,” he said. “They’re going to see the prime minister mocking the realities that so many Canadians live with. And it is not a joke.”

The NDP candidate in the Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge riding echoed those sentiments.

“I thought it was unfortunate to see our leader looking like that,” said John Mogk.

“And I stand with my leader Jagmeet to say racism is not something we want to tolerate in this country.”

He said it is up to voters to judge whether they believe the prime minister’s actions were racist.

Ahmed Yousef, a board member of the South Asian Cultural Society and president of the Islamic Society of Ridge Meadows, said it is a moment to learn from.

“We still have a lot of work to do as individuals and as a collective, to come to a place of inclusivity, understanding and respect.”

Speaking as an Egyptian, he said he was not personally offended by the prime minister’s Arabian Nights costume. Nor would he be offended this Halloween to see trick-or-treaters dressed as mummies, pharaohs or as Cleopatra.

“What, are we all going to dress as ghosts?”

However, everyone should be aware that blackface is considered racially insensitive by many people.

“It’s unacceptable,” he said. “The prime minister has apologized. From my perspective, as an Egyptian and an Arab, I accept his apology.

“Society is evolving. We’re in a better place – a more respectful place, to one another.”

He suggested the timing of the photos is an attempt to influence the election.

“This is a political campaign. Are we going to let ourselves be used as pawns, or judge leaders on their policies?”

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