Controversial images of Canada’s prime minister as a younger man in brownface and blackface have struck a nerve with North Okanagan-Shuswap candidate Harwinder Sandhu.
“It does hurt – I’m still in shock actually,” Sandhu told the Observer on Thursday after images surfaced showing a 29-year-old Trudeau wearing brownface at a 2001 “Arabian Nights” themed party, and of Trudeau in blackface makeup in his high school talent show.
“It was a dumb thing to do,” Trudeau said during an emergency news conference on the Liberal campaign plane before taking off for Winnipeg.
“I’m disappointed in myself, I’m pissed off at myself for having done it. I wish I hadn’t done it, but I did it, and I apologize for it.”
Cindy Derkaz, the Liberal candidate for the North Okanagan-Shuswap, said she is disappointed by the photos, but accepts the prime minister’s apology.
“It is sincere and heartfelt. I hope that Canadians feel the same way,”’ said Derkaz in an email to the Observer. “Since 2014, when I was first nominated as a candidate for the Federal Liberals, I have come to know Justin Trudeau personally. He is one of the most inclusive people I know: he ‘walks the talk.’”
Sandhu first read the news about the controversial photos on Wednesday, Sept. 18, after she arrived home from work.
“First I was shocked,” Sandhu said.
“I felt betrayed because regardless of my political belief – I used to believe Trudeau is much more accepting compared to previous leaders we’ve had.”
After immigrating from India to Canada in 2001, Sandhu was widowed at an early age. She moved to Vernon to be with her kids and has since remarried and raised her family.
Aside from her candidacy for the North Okanagan-Shuswap NDP, Sandhu is a registered nurse and works with organizations like the BC Nurses Union to advocate for health care workers and patients.
While she has tried to give Trudeau the benefit of the doubt, ultimately it is the years of racism she has experienced that has helped her come to terms with the news.
“Speaking for myself, you develop a thick skin,” Sandhu said.
“That’s what I try to teach my daughters – don’t take it personal.”
After reading the comments below articles about the controversy, she is devastated to see people writing to say there are other problems that politicians should be focused on.
“When people say there are bigger issues, I believe this is the biggest issue,” Sandhu said.
“We need to work together, we cannot do this without everybody’s help and we cannot shove this issue under the carpet.”
Derkaz said Trudeau’s actions as prime minister speak to his leadership on inclusivity.
“One only needs to look at the diversity of Liberal government and the party’s candidates to see his leadership on inclusion,” said Derkaz. “I support Justin Trudeau’s leadership and am running hard to be the first woman this riding sends to Ottawa.”