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Liberal candidates of all backgrounds were struggling Thursday to balance condemnation with support for their leader Justin Trudeau in the wake of the blackface scandal.
“I accept his apology. I watched his comments and, as somebody who knows him, I can tell you it was genuine. He knows he made a poor decision, it was a bad decision. And I could tell that he was hurt that he’s hurt people,” Liberal candidate and government House Leader Bardish Chagger told 570 News radio in Kitchener, Ont.
Like other Liberal candidates who spoke publicly about the scandal, Chagger said that she’s not just viewing it in isolation and that it’s important to remember that Trudeau has led a diverse and inclusive government.
Liberal candidate and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also pulled the conversation back to Trudeau’s track record.
“Regardless of when it happened, it was wrong then and it’s wrong now,” Sajjan told CBC about the three photos of Trudeau in either brown or blackface. “But I’m also here to talk about the person I know, in terms of how much he is standing up for people. You need to be judged for your actions.”
In a statement he added, “Many Canadians are disappointed by these images. Justin Trudeau has sincerely apologized for these actions & acknowledged that this was unacceptable.”
At a morning announcement in Ottawa, with Liberal candidate and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, Liberal candidate Greg Fergus, the chair of Parliament’s black caucus, said there was “a lot of confusion and hurt last night by the black community.”
Fergus said that Trudeau called him on Wednesday night before the news broke and they had a “really good conversation” about it. From the discussions he was having, Fergus said that people in the black community are ready to cut Trudeau some slack due to his track record.
“I don’t believe that anybody has ever lived their lives without making errors. The PM last night presented his apologies and expressed his regrets,” said Fergus. “The real measure of the man and the thing we need to be talking about are all the amazing things we have done for diversity, specifically for the black Canadian community across this country.”
Some candidates took to social media to express their discomfort with the images of their leader.
"I was very disheartened and disappointed to see these images."
“I am disappointed by the pictures of Justin Trudeau that were published yesterday. I simply don’t care how old these images are,” said Liberal candidate Katie Omstead, on her Facebook page . “Being a teacher, my heart goes out to students everywhere who have been affected by racism, homophobia, and bullying.”
“I was very disheartened and disappointed to see these images,” wrote Amarjeet Sohi, Edmonton Liberal candidate and cabinet minister, on Twitter. “These indefensible images bring back many painful memories of racism that I and other racialized Canadians have experienced throughout our lives.”
He went on to describe Trudeau as a “champion” of diversity and inclusion.
At his late-night press conference on Wednesday, Trudeau told reporters that he would be explaining why blackface is wrong to his children on Thursday morning and, at an afternoon press conference, he sympathized with parents who had to do the same thing.
“There are far too many parents who had to explain to their kids about that photo of their prime minister,” said Trudeau, at his Thursday afternoon media availability in Winnipeg.
The theme was picked up by several Liberals.
“Chatted with my kids and kids immediately appreciate that dressing up as cultures is wrong, is disrespectful and oppressive,” said St. John’s Liberal candidate Nick Whalen, on Twitter . “If their dad’s boss gets made fun of today at school, ‘that probably makes sense.'”
Like Trudeau, many Liberals are eager to push the conversation past the misdeeds of the party leader and into a broader discussion about diversity in Canada.
“Are we having this conversation so that we ensure that as we move forward, the country that we continue to build is even better, even more inclusive?” said Chagger.
“Or are we having this conversation because it was the leader of the party, and we’re having a hard time understanding that he is also a human being?”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019