Prime MInister Justin Trudeau appears in this photo, released by Time Magazine, in dark makeup on his face, neck and hands at a 2001 ‘Arabian Nights’-themed party at Vancouver’s West Point Grey Academy, where he was a teacher. (Time)

Courtenay-Alberni Liberal candidate discusses Trudeau’s ‘brownface’ controversy

Gowans: ‘I would say it’s disappointing for sure. It was racist, as the Prime Minister admitted to’

The Liberal candidate for Courtenay-Alberni says he was surprised after two photos and a video surfaced of incidents of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau wearing ‘brownface’ and ‘blackface’.

Jonah Gowans says he was disappointed by Trudeau’s previous actions, but maintains his apology is an important part of this conversation.

“I would say it’s disappointing for sure. It was racist, as the Prime Minister admitted to. And Mr. Trudeau has apologized, he recognized what he did was wrong, and I think that’s an important thing,” said Gowans.

READ MORE: Yearbook photo surfaces of Trudeau wearing ‘brownface’ costume in 2001

“That we recognize when we err, it’s important to take responsibility. Which I feel he did last night.”

A photo of Trudeau with his face, neck and hands painted in brown makeup at an “Arabian Nights”-themed party caused an uproar after being published in TIME Magazine on Wednesday, Sept. 18.

The incident occurred when Trudeau was a teacher at West Point Grey Academy, a private school in Vancouver. Two other instances of Trudeau wearing skin-darkening makeup have been published since.

READ MORE: Third instance of Trudeau in skin-darkening makeup emerges

“I trust the people of Courtenay-Alberni, and that I hope they give me a chance to get to know Jonah Gowans, the person, and not just Justin Trudeau,” said Gowans.

“I trust them to actually make that decision. And Justin Trudeau isn’t on the ballot here in Courtenay-Alberni. It’s my name beside the Liberal Party of Canada.”

Coverage of Trudeau’s story made headlines across the world on Thursday. He has made several apologies in the wake of the photo’s release.

The NEWS reached out to the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society to detail why dressing in brownface and blackface is considered inappropriate.

Jennifer Fowler is the executive director of CVIMS, an organization that helps new immigrants get settled in central Vancouver Island.

Fowler says that imitation of other cultures falls under the umbrella of cultural appropriation.

She says it’s a practice that’s especially inappropriate because of existing power dynamics and history of oppression between two cultures.

“It’s not appropriate to mimic those of a different culture. Typically it means it’s a group that’s more privileged appropriating a group that is not,” said Fowler.

READ MORE: VIDEO: Trudeau asks Canada to look to current, not past, actions on race

“I think it’s important for people to understand, especially people who are elected officials and people who are in power, how that does impact people who are racialized. I think we need to understand that a lot more as a society. The fact that this has come out and is affecting a leader in our country – it brings that issue more to the surface, which I think is really important.”

Fowler said historical injustice between cultures in the past has a huge impact on people’s lives in the present.

Performing in blackface was a common practice in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was often used as a theatrical performance that had the power to mock, mimic and dehumanize black people in the United States.

“It’s not something that we can ignore, but it’s also a teaching piece for people to understand the why. Because it did happen a lot 20 years ago. There was no context, and there was nobody to speak out to it. I think there’s definitely a lot more education around it now, which is why it’s in the news,” said Fowler.

emily.vance@pqbnews.com

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