As he smiled for the camera, the young man must have felt the costume and make-up he was wearing were mere harmless fun: Just another night for a party boy who loved dressing up.
In one snap, he’s elaborately costumed as Aladdin for an end-of-year ‘Arabian Nights’ do at a smart private school in British Columbia.
His fellow teachers barely bothered to dress up for the 2001 event, but Justin Trudeau has gone for it, donning a white robe, theatrical turban and even dark make-up on his hands, face and neck.
Yearbook: At an ‘Arabian Nights’ party with fellow teachers in 2001. Now, less than five weeks until the Canadian general election, the images have rocked Trudeau’s campaign
And that’s him again, hardly recognisable under an Afro wig and skin-darkening make-up (so-called ‘blackface’) some years earlier while attending high school.
On stage, clutching a microphone and wearing ripped white trousers and an African-patterned jacket, he sings Day-O, the traditional Jamaican song popularised by the singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte.
A third appearance, in a short video dating from the early 1990s, also surfaced yesterday.
In it, Trudeau – who followed his father to become prime minister of Canada – is again wearing blackface and wig, laughing delightedly, waving his arms and sticking out his tongue for the camera.
At the heart of it is a charge of abject hypocrisy: That this chattering classes darling, so ‘woke’ that he has urged his countrymen (he insists jokingly) to say ‘peoplekind’ instead of ‘mankind’, was himself guilty of racism well into his late 20s
What a hoot! Or at least it must have seemed so at the time.
Now, less than five weeks until the Canadian general election, the images have rocked Trudeau’s campaign.
Speaking to reporters last night, he was forced to admit he could not remember how many times he has worn blackface.
‘I am wary of being definitive about this because the recent pictures that came out, I had not remembered,’ he said.
‘Darkening your face regardless of the context or the circumstances is always unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface,’ he hastened to add.
‘I should have understood that then and I never should have done it.’
What must his famous friends be thinking now? The Duchess of Sussex, who has spoken out about racism, joined the Trudeaus’ gilded social set while filming her legal drama Suits in Toronto
To say the ‘rock star’ of liberal politics has been hoisted on his own politically correct petard would be a huge understatement.
Indeed, as Trudeau faced furious calls to resign yesterday, the scandal threatened to bring down his career altogether.
At the heart of it is a charge of abject hypocrisy: That this chattering classes darling, so ‘woke’ that he has urged his countrymen (he insists jokingly) to say ‘peoplekind’ instead of ‘mankind’, was himself guilty of racism well into his late 20s.
Trudeau conceded he has always been more enthusiastic about costumes than is ‘sometimes appropriate’. He’s not wrong.
Last year, his attempt to show respect for Indian culture during a state visit to the country earned worldwide mockery after he and his equally photogenic family turned out to events wearing cringe-making, gold-embroidered outfits and silk, pointed shoes.
Top: Trudeau wears blackface and an afro wig as he sings at a high school talent show.
They even treated their horrified hosts to a burst of Bhangra dancing. Now, however, the offence he’s caused is infinitely greater.
Accused of racism and the most shameless hypocrisy, he risks being turfed out of office after a first term plagued by scandals and embarrassment.
As Trudeau grovels for all he’s worth, he faces a tough battle convincing his critics and country to bestow the ‘forgiveness’ he has begged of them.
Wearing blackface, once so uncontroversial that BBC1 could air The Black and White Minstrel Show as a highlight of its peak-time schedule, has long been regarded as unacceptable.
Contrary to Trudeau’s claim that he didn’t realise ‘at the time’ that the make-up was racist, critics counter that he was already 29, as well as the son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, when the picture was taken.
He had no excuse for pleading ignorance.
The bomb exploded under his political career after America’s Time magazine was passed a picture of Trudeau dressed as Aladdin from the 2001 school yearbook and taken at the West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver.
Trudeau taught there in his 20s before entering politics, but later tried to downplay his involvement in private education, preferring to dwell on his time teaching at a state school.
He was quick to apologise, confirming that it was him in the photo and adding that the attractive young woman wrapped in his arms in the snap was a ‘close friend’.
Ashen-faced, he told reporters: ‘I should have known better but I didn’t and I’m really sorry. It was a dumb thing to do. I’m p***** off at myself.’
Asked if he thought the photograph was racist, he said: ‘Yes, it was. I didn’t consider it racist at the time, but now we know better.’
Likely aware that it was only a matter of time before his high-school penchant for blacking-up also emerged, he confessed to that, too.
Canadians, and particularly those who voted for him in the 2015 election, spent the day wondering if they really knew the man who electrified the country’s politics and provided the social-media generation with the first world leader they could clutch to their collective heart.
What must his famous friends be thinking now?
The Duchess of Sussex, who has spoken out about racism, joined the Trudeaus’ gilded social set while filming her legal drama Suits in Toronto.
She got to know Justin and his glamorous wife Sophie (a former television host) through charity work and because her close friend, Jessica Mulroney, gave fashion advice to Sophie.
In 2016, she shared on Instagram a photo of her talking to Trudeau at a summit. Would she now?
Trudeau’s Conservative opponent, Andrew Scheer – running level with him in the polls – scoffed at the suggestion that blacking up was somehow less offensive in the past.
‘Wearing “brownface” is an act of open mockery and racism,’ he said. ‘It was just as racist in 2001 as it is in 2019.’
And Robert Bothwell, a professor of Canadian history and international relations at the University of Toronto, said he was ‘gobsmacked’ by the development.
To say the ‘rock star’ of liberal politics has been hoisted on his own politically correct petard would be a huge understatement. Indeed, as Trudeau faced furious calls to resign yesterday, the scandal threatened to bring down his career altogether
‘That’s the kind of thing you do when you are a frat boy,’ Bothwell said.
‘Maybe at 29 he had no idea that he was going to go on to greatness, but his father would have never done that.’
Trudeau’s own party rallied round – albeit with reservations. Defence minister Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s first Sikh in the job, said what Trudeau did was wrong but added he had a record of standing up for minorities.
Greg Fergus, a black Liberal MP, pointed out that Trudeau put Viola Desmond, a black pioneer of the Canadian civil rights movement, on the country’s $10 note.
And Mitzie Hunter, another leading black Liberal politician, tweeted: ‘I know it is not representative of the man he is.’ So will this scandal end his political career?
Not necessarily, say some. On the one hand, wearing blackface is perhaps not as furiously controversial in Canada as it is in America, thanks to the latter’s history of slavery and segregation.
Cheryl Thompson, an academic and expert on blackface, agreed the practice was indeed less frowned-upon in 2001 and noted none of the smiling young women posing with Trudeau appeared uncomfortable with his ‘look’.
Trudeau’s own party rallied round – albeit with reservations. Defence minister Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s first Sikh in the job, said what Trudeau did was wrong but added he had a record of standing up for minorities
On the other hand, pollsters say Trudeau’s ultra-progressive image has been critical to the Liberal Party’s success.
‘This picture runs completely contrary to the image of tolerance the prime minister has so scrupulously cultivated,’ said Darrell Bricker, head of polling firm Ipsos Public Affairs. ‘It can’t be good for him or his party.’
Trudeau said he had already spoken by phone to political colleagues who might have been particularly offended and he yesterday discussed the scandal with his own party.
Four years ago, when he became prime minister aged 44, US Vogue included Trudeau in a list of the Ten Sexiest Men Alive, gushing that the ‘politician-dreamboat’ was both ‘a feminist and capable of balancing a baby on one hand’.
However, a string of setbacks have dented this dextrous image.
Last year, he was accused of groping a female reporter at a music festival in 2000. He rejected the allegation but his team said he had apologised at the time.
He was also forced to apologise in 2016 for manhandling two opposition MPs in Parliament. He insisted his elbowing of a female MP had been ‘inadvertent’.
Yoga-loving Justin may have acquired his hippy ethos from his mother, Margaret, a beautiful but troubled Sixties rebel who would sometimes leave Justin and his two younger brothers to join the Rolling Stones’ hard-partying entourage.
Accused of racism and the most shameless hypocrisy, he risks being turfed out of office after a first term plagued by scandals and embarrassment. He is pictured speaking to reporters on a plane above
Her son has won plaudits with liberal-minded Canadians by personally welcoming refugees as they arrived in the country and by pushing through the nationwide legalisation of cannabis – but also dismayed them by promoting the country’s oil industry.
Canada’s indigenous Haida tribe accused him of ‘cultural appropriation’ after he showed off a large tattoo – designed by a Haida artist – of a raven on his shoulder.
Critics have also accused him of double standards over immigrants, welcoming 25,000 Syrians amid great fanfare but closing the door to many others, including thousands of impoverished Haitians.
Cynics have long accused Trudeau of being the entitled, show-off brat of an elite Canadian dynasty whose ‘man-of-the-people’ demeanour is an act.
The $7,000 watch he wore for the 2015 election campaign and the three Caribbean family holidays he took on a yacht owned by the billionaire Aga Khan seemed all of a piece with a man entirely out of touch with the lives of ordinary Canadians.
Yet such lavishly flamboyant behaviour comes naturally to him. After rummaging through his well-stocked dressing-up box, he has attended a Montreal party dressed as a 17th-century cavalier, a Chinatown parade in a black and red silk suit and a film premiere (of a Salman Rushdie novel) wearing traditional Indian dress.
Whether his political career sinks or swims, Trudeau will surely think twice before he gets into fancy dress again.