A man who attended an “Arabian Nights” gala held by a private school in Vancouver says no one besides Justin Trudeau attended in skin-darkening makeup — but no one else was dressed as Aladdin, either.
Wayne Hamill went to the 2001 party because his kids went to West Point Grey Academy and he said the future Liberal leader’s costume was “great” and in keeping with the theme.
Other attendees, including other white people, were dressed as belly dancers or wearing saris or veils, Hamill said. He doesn’t recall anyone being offended by Trudeau’s costume or makeup.
“He didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. That’s what he did. He was a drama teacher,” said Hamill, who is white. “It’s a costume and it was in the context of the theme of the party.”
Trudeau has apologized after photographs from the event surfaced along with other images of him made up in brownface or blackface. He said he had a blind spot because of his privilege and he deeply regrets behaviour he now recognizes as racist.
Numerous Canadians of colour, including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Indigenous federal candidates, have said Trudeau’s use of dark face paint is hurtful and insulting. Trudeau said Friday he would call Singh to personally apologize.
West Point Grey Academy released a statement Thursday saying its 2001 gala was organized by a culturally diverse group of parent volunteers and was intended to be celebratory and respectful. However, it said, it recognizes that cultural sensitivities have evolved over the past 18 years.
Sunny Khurana, a turban-wearing Sikh, also attended the party and was photographed with Trudeau.
He said Thursday he didn’t view the costume as racist and the school had no tolerance for discrimination.
Hamill, a real estate agent, said he’s not a Trudeau supporter but he believes the uproar is unfair. He said he never once, over the years, thought of coming forward with a yearbook photo to “expose” Trudeau for his costume at the event.
“Expose him for what? For being a good costume-dresser?” he said. “It’s so taken out of context. It’s applying today’s standards to yesterday’s actions. … At the time, it wasn’t as much of an issue to do that.”
He said Trudeau, who was 29 at the time, was a very expressive, enthusiastic and friendly teacher. Hamill also said the student population was diverse and included kids of South Asian, Middle Eastern, East Asian and First Nations descent.
Trudeau wrote in his 2014 memoir, “Common Ground,” that teaching at West Point Grey gave him new insights into the “privileged lives” of private-school students that he didn’t glean from his own advantaged upbringing.
“Whenever I discuss the problem of income inequality in our society, I think about the children and their families I met when teaching at that school. The parents I encountered at parent-teacher nights were successful, hard-working people, but their wealth gave some of them an excessive sense of entitlement,” he wrote.
“And many of the students had little exposure to or understanding of the larger society around them or the challenges faced by ordinary people.”
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press