LONDON, ONTARIO – Faithful readers of the Hermaneutics blog may recall our second essay from January 2018, in which I rose to the defense of a London Police officer who was being hounded by the witless jackals of political correctness for the crime of dressing up in African ceremonial garb for Hallowe’en during her student years – a full decade before joining the London Force. I won’t recapitulate my argument here; suffice it to say that I do not accept the calumny that racial hatred is the invariable (or even a common) inspiration for dressing up like someone you are not. Incredibly enough I think it’s got a lot more to do with a sense of fun and adventure and even admiration. You can check out that essay at this link if you’d care for a refresher: http://www.hermangoodden.ca/blog/making-the-case-for-insensitivity-training
But if ever there was a perfect representative of the judgmental conviction that only racists and bigots would ever don blackface - or ‘brownface’ as our government-subsidized media originally termed it in a touching attempt to ameliorate the offense of reporting on it at all - it was our PC poster boy of a prime minister, Justin ‘Happy Socks’ Trudeau. And how delicious it has been to watch the boy wonder squirm, not even two weeks into his re-election campaign, at the revelation last Wednesday - not from any Canadian news source but TIME magazine out of the States - that as a 29-year old drama teacher at a Vancouver private school in 2001, wee Justy smeared on a tin of bootblack for an Arabian Nights-themed charity gala.
Predictably enough - with the sole exception of Maxime Bernier of the newly formed People’s Party of Canada - leaders of all the other political parties raced to condemn Trudeau’s face-painting as a Nazi-worthy hate crime . Bermier didn't give a toss about the PM’s goofy Aladdin get-up. He zeroed in on the far more troubling matter of Trudeau's insufferable moral preening; the flaw which activates just about everything he does such as the sliming of any politician or citizen who questions his suicidal intake of illegal immigrants in the name of cultural diversity; his instant turfing of cabinet members on the merest say-so of female MPs crying harassment; his barring of any politician from the Liberal Party who holds pro-life views; his denouncement of political opponents as homophobic if they won’t join him as grand marshal at any and every gay pride parade in the land (as if any self-respecting gay wants to stride down Yonge Street beside Andrew Scheer in his clunky sta-prest slacks); his insistence on appointing women as fifty per cent of his cabinet ministers whether they’re qualified to manage their portfolios or not (Climate Barbie being the most incompetent of a pretty dim crew); his constant boasting about his male feminist credentials as he tries to stronghold his female attorney general to not ask uncomfortable questions about his Liberal-funding pals at SNC-Lavalin.
So good on Maxime for having the clarity to say, “I’m not going to accuse Justin Trudeau of being a racist. But he is the master of identity politics and the Libs just spent months accusing everyone of being white supremacists. He definitely is the biggest hypocrite in the country.”
Interestingly enough, we had a not very widely publicized dress rehearsal for this whole prime ministerial meltdown last year. Early in 2018 when the tumbrels of the #MeToo movement were just starting to thwack away, Trudeau banged on about the need to believe all women in an interview with the CBC:
“The standard applies to everyone," he said. "There is no context in which someone doesn’t have responsibility for things they have done in the past. This is something that I am not new to. I’ve been working on issues around sexual assault for over 25 years. My first activism and engagement was at the sexual assault centre of McGill’s Student Society where I was one of the first male facilitators in their outreach program, leading conversations – sometimes very difficult ones – on issues of consent, communications, accountability, power dynamics.”
His interviewer asked if there might not be some occasions in his own life when his actions were not construed as he’d intended them, and Trudeau was confident that the circumspection of his behavior had been absolute: “I don’t think so. I’ve been very, very careful all my life to be thoughtful and respectful of people’s space and people’s head space as well.”
About five months later the muckrakers at Frank magazine dug up an 18 year-old editorial in a small BC community paper, The Creston Valley Advance, which they thought made interesting reading when juxtaposed with Trudeau’s January #MeToo musings. That all but forgotten editorial in a small town newspaper from 2000 outlined what became known as the ‘Kokanee Grope’.
As the Toronto Sun reported on July 9, 2018, “The Prime Minister’s Office has been adamant Trudeau did not recall “any negative interactions” during a visit he made to a Kokanee festival in the year 2000 despite a newspaper editorial that claimed he groped a young reporter. Yet he’s since fessed up and apologized to the female reporter – now identified as Rose Knight, who wrote an unsigned editorial that year accusing Trudeau of inappropriately “handling” and groping her while she covered his appearance there.”
Knight’s coverage of the Kokanee Festival appeared in both the Advance and The National Post. Her unsigned editorial appeared only in The Advance.
The Toronto Sun’s 2018 report continues: “And it’s clear the incident happened. Knight’s former publisher and editor confirmed it took place and described Trudeau’s actions as reported to them at the time were both unwelcome and inappropriate. Knight herself released a statement last week confirming “it happened,” though does not plan to further address the matter. But Trudeau has not explained what he meant by the apology he made 18 years ago – “I’m sorry. Had I known you were reporting for a national paper, I would never have been so forward.” That explanation hardly takes responsibility for it. “I apologized in the moment, because I had obviously perceived that she had experienced it in a different way than I acted or I experienced it,” he told reporters recently.”
The Kokanee Grope story never really broke wide open as Rose Knight was not inclined to pursue it any further legally and so Trudeau was able to slough it off, telling reporters in 2018, “I’m confident that I did not act inappropriately but I think the essence of this is that people can experience interactions differently. Often a man experiences an interaction as benign, or not inappropriate, and a woman – particularly in a professional context – can experience it differently . . . We’ve all been reflecting on past behaviours. There is an awakening going on and we need to take opportunities to reflect on it.”
Ah. Did you catch the trajectory of Trudeau’s commentary there, as he shifted the onus of this uncomfortable and murky incident from himself in particular to society in general? This is a dialectic trick which he has developed and refined much further over the last year. That it hasn’t worked so well in defusing the ‘blackface’ scandal is entirely owing to the participation this time out of a much more diligent world press.
That now world-famous picture of Justin at that Vancouver gala, his black hands pawing the chest (if not the breasts) of a female teaching colleague, had been languishing about in a publicly circulated school yearbook for almost twenty years. Is it plausible that no Canadian reporter ever came across that photo while researching the back story of our prime minister? Can you imagine that if a similar photograph of Stephen Harper had ever surfaced, it wouldn’t have been publicized immediately? Shamefully enough, some Canadian commentators even sought to excuse the gaffe in light of the gala’s Arabian Nights theme (even though no true blue Arab is as black as that). It was a reporter for the English newspaper, The Telegraph, who pointed out that Trudeau was entirely alone in laying on the shoe polish for that event:
“On the evening of Feb 24, 2001 Justin Trudeau breezed into the palatial Fairmont hotel overlooking Vancouver harbour for a charity gala. It was supposed to be a formal event with an “Arabian Nights” theme including belly dancers and Middle Eastern music. Some 500 guests showed up, the men in tuxedos. Except Mr. Trudeau. He had painted his face, hands and feet black, donned billowing robes, and placed a giant turban on his head. Not one other person was in blackface. If Mr. Trudeau felt any embarrassment at his jaw-dropping and racially offensive faux pas, then he didn’t show it.”
Within 12 hours of TIME magazine’s first bombshell revelation, two earlier and just as gruesomely documented instances of Trudeau in blackface came to light and at that point the chagrined prime minister declined to make any assurances that even more such pictures might not surface. In a Wednesday night press conference on his campaign plane, he had apologized as forthrightly as he could and let it be known that he was disappointed and “pissed off” at himself. (Spoken like a mature statesman.) At a press conference in Winnipeg on Thursday, he significantly broadened the scope of his disappointment and anger to include the country at large:
“I have dedicated my leadership and my service to Canada to try and counter intolerance and racism everywhere I can, but this has been a moment I've had to reflect on the fact that wanting to do good and wanting to do better simply isn't good enough. I think we all need to recognize that even in an incredible country like Canada, there’s still a lot more work to do,” he scolded.
“People are still facing discrimination and marginalization every single day. Anti-black racism, unconscious bias, systemic discrimination – they still exist. Systemic discrimination still exists in our schools, in our universities, in our workplaces, in our communities. Racialized Canadians every day face extra barriers, extra comments, disparaging remarks that they have learned to live with as the reality of their day to day lives. And we must all, in Canada and everywhere around the world, pledge ourselves to make sure we are fighting to make it better.
“There’s lots of things we can and must do and that includes recognizing terrible mistakes of the past. That’s what I am doing. That’s what I have tried to do as prime minister in [sic] many occasions. And that’s why we’re going to continue to recognize that still indigenous peoples in this country face unacceptable living situations, fewer opportunities – these people who were promised shared partnership and stewardship of the land and respect were treated with everything but for centuries. And we are beginning on the road of reconciliation now but there is still a long way to go. Canadians who come from different parts of the world – whether they are first generation or fifth generation – continue to face intolerance and marginalization. We have much more to do and I am not afraid of standing up in front of the world and saying, Canada is a pretty great country – Canada is the best country in the world – but we have a lot more work to do – all of us. And that is something I will continue to pledge every single day that I have, to doing.”
Oh man . . . the Churchillian splendour of the syntax tingles the spine . . . the Jungian depth of the insights steals the breath . . . and what sort of praise could ever do justice to such a fearlessly plumbed self-awareness of which so very few twelve year-olds are capable? Don’t you see, Canada? Justin’s little problem is really our great big problem and every last one of us is just so gosh-darned lucky to have him around to lead this poor benighted nation into the light. Re-elect the little twerp to the highest office in the land and he’ll help all of us bigots and racists and gropers to comport ourselves with a little more decency and fairness as we make our way forward to a glorious future of unbridled caring and sharing. Dear God, what would we do without him?
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