Quebec media greet Trudeau’s brownface photos with outrage, indifference

The early response in Quebec’s francophone media to photos of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wearing racist makeup has been a mix of opportunistic outrage and indifference.

In Quebec City, last night’s Céline Dion concert was featured more prominently on the front pages of the local papers this morning.

Le Nouvelliste, a tabloid that serves the electorally strategic district of Trois-Rivières, ran a story about the pictures on page 32.

The main political story on the front page of Montreal’s Le Devoir was about Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s proposal to build an oil pipeline through the province, and the possibility he could ignore Quebec’s objections to such a project.

One Journal de Montreal columnist, Richard Martineau, did put the screws to Trudeau. But Martineau, who is often critical of multiculturalism and dismissive of minority groups, seemed mainly interested in accusing Trudeau of hypocrisy, not racism.

On the popular Montreal morning radio show Puisqu il faut se lever, host Paul Arcand and contributor Lise Ravary were more scandalized by the placement of Trudeau’s right hand on a woman’s chest in the 2001 picture from West Point Grey Academy showing the future prime minister wearing dark makeup as part of an Arabian Nights-themed costume.

“Let’s be clear, it’s not far from her cleavage,” Ravary said.

Wednesday night’s Céline Dion concert was featured more prominently on the front pages of many Quebec papers on Thursday than the news about Justin Trudeau. (CBC)

Yves Boisvert, columnist for the Montreal daily La Presse, compared Trudeau’s appearance in “brownface” to the legacy of blackface in the United States.

“Dressing up as Aladdin in ‘Arabian nights’ is a lot more innocent,” Boisvert wrote in a column published this morning. He suggested it was a mistake committed “without malice.”

On the streets of downtown Montreal, several people told CBC News that the images were unlikely to dramatically change their opinions of Trudeau.

Sarah Barabheuya said she appreciated that Trudeau often attends cultural events and welcomed refugees from Syria as one of his first actions in office.

“He’s done a lot of positive things,” Barabheuya said. “I don’t see [the photos] badly. But if others do, he should apologize.”

Elijah Olise, who lives in Montreal’s west end, said he’s skeptical of the motives of most politicians but thought Trudeau was, for the most part, well-intentioned.

“I would still vote for him,” Olise said. “Do I think that was cool that he did that? No.”