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All the terrible things Justin Trudeau has done…beyond blackface

23 Oct 2019

Photography via Presidencia de la República Mexicana

Last night, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau narrowly won the Canadian Federal Election, keeping his role for another term – this time under a minority parliament. While many in the country breathed a sigh of relief to have avoided an austerity-driven, right-wing Conservative government, the mood amongst Canadians is hardly enthusiastic. Justin won not with a bang, but with a whimper, an eye-roll, and a muttered “lesser of two evils”. The truth is, for many Canadians, the only thing consistent about Justin is how disappointing he is. He’s reneged on many of his more progressive promises, and has gone from being the charming, (allegedly) handsome, “progressive” guy to being…just any other liberal white guy, who doesn’t stand out from his competitors or inspire much confidence.

Justin has suffered some serious harm to his public image over the last four years, and all of his own doing. Most non-Canadians are familiar with the blackface scandal from September, during which photos surfaced of Justin in black/brownface on three separate occasions from his late teens to age 29. But his history of racism only scratches the surface of a much more profound divide between the Justin the world thinks they know, and the real leader of the country. It’s time the real face of the Canadian Prime Minister came to light.

Indigenous issues  

• Justin’s 2015 election campaign made five key promises to Indigenous people – but of those five promises, which seemed to result in a significant Indigenous turnout for the Liberal party, he has failed to meet three. 

• The difference between his 2015 promises and 2019 realities are so stark that in his speech officially announcing the 2019 federal election, he didn’t even mention Indigenous people.

• In his 2015 election campaign, Justin promised to fully implement the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). The TRC documented the harms of “residential schools”, which existed across Canada from the 19th century to 1996 to take Indigenous children out of their communities and “assimilate” them, through psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, religious indoctrination, and the prohibition of Indigenous languages. Justin’s promise to implement the TRC’s recommendations has, unsurprisingly, been unsuccessful.

• Justin additionally promised in 2015 to end all boil-water advisories in Indigenous communities within five years – the clock is ticking, and experts say this goal will not be met by the March 2021 deadline. Currently, there are more than 50 Indigenous communities in Canada that have no access to clean drinking water.

• He also promised to prioritise the reviewing and repealing of historical legislation which discriminates against Indigenous people – missing the self-imposed December 2018 deadline, he has not yet unveiled the promised “Federal Recognition and Implementation of Indigenous Rights Framework”.  

• Justin also vowed the government would resolve land claims from Indigenous communities, which entail negotiations around giving back specific areas of land to the communities from which they were stolen. Many claims cases have been in court for decades, but Indigenous nations continue to face delays – for instance, the Northwest Territories Metis Nation had their money and land withheld despite waiting 20+ years. 


• In Canada, environmental activism and the fight against the climate crisis goes hand-in-hand with Indigenous rights and sovereignty, given the land is theirs and they often have cultural and spiritual relationships with it. Justin’s broken promises on the climate have thus betrayed Indigenous communities, alongside the hundreds of thousands of non-Indigenous people who have marched for the climate

• His most significant move against the climate was in approving the Keystone XL pipeline and attempting to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline by approving a C$4.5 billion (£2.76 billion) government buyout of it. This move was completely contradictory to his campaign promises in 2015 to reduce Canadian emissions. 

• When interviewed by Hasan Minhaj on Netflix’s Patriot Act, Justin continuously claimed that despite expanding a pipeline, Canada is “not going to be polluting more”.

• Justin promised in 2015 that First Nations communities would be allowed to veto any development related to natural resources on their territories. Clearly, as the pipeline tells us, he has no interest in following through on that promise.

• Despite Justin’s 2015 promise to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, these discounts to oil and gas companies are ongoing. The subsidies exist to encourage the continued production of fossil fuels in Canada, thus creating more jobs and profit. The 2019 Liberal budget has a reduced number of subsidies, but still allows some, which critics say have been masked under unclear definitions and jargon.

Weapons trade with Saudi Arabia

• Canada is one of the largest weapons exporters to the Middle East – Justin’s government had an agreement to sell arms to Saudi Arabia despite Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the devastating ongoing war in Yemen which has caused over 100,000 casualties, and hundreds of thousands more deaths due to disease and famine.

• The Canadian government has moved slowly on making a decision about this arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Justin announced a year ago that his government would investigate the export of weaponry, but the results of that investigation have not yet been released. Despite the government suspending the deal until a decision has taken place, Justin refuses to draw a hard line on the issue.

Accusations of sexual assault

• In 2018, Justin was accused of groping former journalist Rose Knight 18 years ago, during a music festival in 2000. According to Rose, he apologised the day after the incident and said he “would not have been so forward” if he knew she was a journalist. 

• When the allegations resurfaced in 2018, he said, “I don’t remember any negative interactions that day at all.” Rose chose not to pursue any further action in both 2000 or 2018.

SNC Lavalin

• In August, an ethics commissioner found that Justin pressured his then attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to intervene in the investigation of a fraud case around development group SNC-Lavalin Inc. The company “had lobbied federal officials for such an outcome,” according to major Canadian outlets

• The series of events led to Jody’s resignation from the position of attorney general, and subsequent resignation of former treasury board president Jane Philpott in solidarity. Both were then ejected from the Liberal party. The fallout from the scandal led to calls for Justin to step down as prime minister. 

• There was also subsequent scrutiny of Justin’s treatment of his women colleagues. If he describes himself as a feminist but boots two prominent women from the Liberal party for being honest, it doesn’t look very good.


• Yes, this happened, but to many in Canada who have kept an eye on Justin’s hypocrisy over the last four years, it didn’t come as a surprise. Pictures of Justin in blackface and brownface surfaced in September from not one, not two, but three separate incidents. 

• Justin responded to the photos by apologising (kind of – he never actually said “blackface” or “brownface”, instead stubbornly calling it makeup), but also adding that he’s always “been more enthusiastic about costumes than is sometimes appropriate”.


Many outside of Canada are still sold the narrative that Justin is a great leader – especially when compared to Donald Trump. But why should that be our standard? Justin may not be as bad as some heavily right-wing leaders, but that certainly doesn’t make him good – it makes him someone the country settled for, as we saw last night. For the last four years, there’s been a lot of dirt swept under the rug, preserving Canada’s image as a utopia and Justin’s as its infallible leader. But if Canada’s going to be stuck with Justin for four more years, the least the rest of us can do is recognise what that really means.

This piece is a part of gal-dem’s Bad Politicians series