Justin Trudeau Admits He Wore Brownface Years Ago at 'Arabian Nights' Party After Photo Surfaces

The Canadian prime minister was shown in a photo from a 2001 Arabian Nights-themed party with dark makeup on his hands and face

Justin Trudeau
Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/AP

Justin Trudeau is taking blame after an old photo recently surfaced showing him in brownface.

The Canadian prime minister addressed the incident during a press conference on Wednesday, just hours after a photograph obtained by TIME was released, showing Trudeau with dark paint on his face, neck and hands as he wore a white robe and turban.

A then-29-year-old Trudeau and the four women surrounding him were attending an Arabian Nights-themed party at West Point Grey Academy — the private co-ed day school where he taught — when the photo was snapped for the 2000-2001 yearbook, according to TIME.

While speaking to reporters at the press conference, Trudeau, 47, confirmed that he was the one pictured in the photograph and expressed remorse for his decision to wear brownface at the party.

“I attended an end-of-year gala where the theme was Arabian Nights. I dressed up in an Aladdin costume and put makeup on,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better, but I didn’t, and I’m really sorry.”

He also told reporters traveling with him on his campaign plane, according to the Associated Press, “I’m pissed off at myself, obviously. I’m disappointed in myself.”

A representative for Trudeau did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.


The photo is just one of six images spread across a yearbook page to commemorate the “gala dinner 2001,” but despite its theme only some guests were dressed up and Trudeau appears to be the only one that covered his skin in brown paint.

TIME reported that it initially obtained a copy of the yearbook, titled The View, earlier this month from Michael Adamson — a businessman who also had connections to the West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver.

Though Adamson explained that he did not attend the party, he told the magazine that multiple faculty members, administrators and parents were there. After coming across the photograph in July, he said he felt it was necessary to be publicized today.

In response to the photo, Zita Astravas, the media relations spokesperson from Trudeau’s Liberal Party of Canada, confirmed the prime minister was pictured in the image and said that he was dressing up as a character from Disney’s Aladdin.

“It was a photo taken while he was teaching in Vancouver, at the school’s annual dinner, which had a costume theme of ‘Arabian Nights.’ He attended with friends and colleagues dressed as a character from Aladdin,” Astravas told TIME.

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Trudeau taught French and math, among other classes, at West Point Grey Academy until the spring of 2001, according to TIME.

The private school is one of the most expensive institutions in Vancouver, with tuition ranging from $21,780 to $23,490 depending on the student’s grade level, the academy’s website states.

Trudeau is seeking his second term for Canadian prime minister and has been a major advocate for inclusivity, open immigrant policies and gender equality.

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