One of two men shown posing with Justin Trudeau in one of the infamous photos of the future prime minister wearing racist makeup says he wasn’t offended then, and he isn’t offended now.
Sunny Khurana’s children were students at Vancouver’s West Point Grey Academy in 2001, when the school held a fundraising gala with an “Arabian Nights” theme. Photos taken that night show Trudeau, then a teacher, smiling in brownface and a turban.
Khurana told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC’s On The Coast he’s heard the criticism that the costume was demeaning to people of colour, but it didn’t register that way to him.
“I don’t recall anybody saying anything negative about it. I don’t think the intention was to hurt anybody,” said Khurana, owner of Guru Bazaar, a sari and fabric store in Surrey, B.C.
The first photo of Trudeau at the gala emerged Wednesday afternoon, and it was followed soon after by two confirmed instances of Trudeau wearing blackface, along with a second photo from the gala, featuring Khurana.
The images have thrown a giant wrench in the Liberal Party’s election campaign, as Trudeau faces questions on his true feelings about people of colour. Experts say there is a long history in North America of white people wearing blackface or dark makeup to mock and belittle other cultures.
The Liberal leader has apologized, but he has not been able to say whether there might be more photos to come.
But Khurana said he doesn’t see the big deal.
“The main thing is that Justin Trudeau, as prime minister, never came across as somebody who had racist tendencies,” said Khurana
Other parents who attended the event told CBC they weren’t offended by Trudeau’s get-up, and see the scandal as a distraction from the real issues.
“This was all done in good fun,” said Jeff Murton.
Private school responds
Trudeau was a volunteer in charge of selling raffle tickets at the fundraiser, according to a gala co-chair, who did not want to be named.
Though many people wore costumes, Trudeau was the only person who blackened his face, the co-chair said.
The school’s director of communications, Megan MacMillan, said the concerns raised about the photos of Trudeau “align with our own values and commitment to inclusion and equality.”
“Our 2001 gala event was organized by a culturally diverse group of parent volunteers and was intended to be celebratory and respectful. That said, we recognize cultural sensitivities have evolved over the past 18 years,” MacMillan said in a written statement.
She said the school will be sending parents a letter about the photos.