Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is desperately trying to apologize for the multiple times he appeared in blackface. He has asked for forgiveness, blaming his behavior on the fact that he comes from “a place of privilege.” But now, he adds, “I have to acknowledge that that comes with a massive blind spot.”
Karen Wang, of Vancouver, British Columbia, doesn’t come from a place of privilege. She emigrated from mainland China in 1999 at age 23 and has built a respected day-care business. Last January, while running for Parliament as a candidate representing Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in a special election, she was suddenly accused of racism. The Liberal Party panicked and within 24 hours forced her resignation, leaving her reputation in tatters.
What was Karen Wang’s sin? One of her campaign volunteers wrote and posted a WeChat message in Mandarin that translates as:
If we can increase the voting rate, as the only [ethnic] Chinese candidate in this riding, if I can garner 16,000 votes, I will easily win the by-election, control the election race, and make history! My opponent in this by election is the NDP candidate [Jasmeet] Singh of Indian descent!
Convinced that she was a victim of a misunderstanding, she asked Prime Minister Trudeau, who is her party’s leader, for a second chance. He spurned her, and the party filled the slot with another candidate who went on to lose the February 25 race by 13 points.
Wang was excoriated for her words by all of the PC forces in Canada. Law professor Warren Kinsella, the author of several books on racism, sent out this tweet:
Wang contended that her words had been poorly translated, and she filed an appeal with Trudeau, her party’s leader. She admitted making a “mistake” but insisted:
I meant no disrespect by that comment. As far as I am concerned it was merely a statement of fact. I did not mean it as a racial comment. . . . I would like the party to reconsider me for a second chance to run for the by-election.
Ironically, the candidate whom Wang supposedly smeared wasn’t troubled by her original post. Jasmeet Singh, who eventually won the by-election and is now the leader of the New Democratic Party against Trudeau in the October 21 national election, accepted her apology. “I didn’t take it personal at all. I am concerned with divisive politics,” he said. “We see that in the south — divisive politics and how it tears apart a country. I want to focus in on politics that bring people together because we share so much in common.”
Indeed, it would be a stretch to call Wang’s post racist. She pointed out that she shares a Chinese background with 40 percent of the voters in her district, adding that one of her opponents didn’t. There was no implication of inherent racial superiority. As Lindsey Shepherd, a fellow at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, pointed out, “Wang was caught in a too-obvious act of appealing to her community — yet it is not uncommon to see politicians in the Metro Vancouver region translate campaign literature into Chinese.” U.S. history is similarly full of examples of candidates making ethnic-pride appeals; see the early campaigns of John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama for examples.
But Justin Trudeau, who has unleashed his party’s attack dogs on many political opponents for views he claims are racist and homophobic, wasn’t about to dilute such a potent political weapon. He ignored Wang’s appeal and effectively ended her political career.
Now Trudeau is on an apology tour. No pandering is beyond him. He has changed his Twitter profile picture to one of him smiling at a black person — we see Trudeau’s face and only the back of the black man’s head. Critics have said this move is akin to claiming, “Some of my best friends are black!”
But voters are having a tough time absorbing his latest example of rank hypocrisy. Before the blackface photos surfaced, “the Liberals were at or very close to a majority” in Parliament, pollster Frank Graves of EKOS Research told Reuters. “That’s completely turned around, and maybe the Conservatives are in majority range now.” He notes that the Liberal lead in Ontario, which has 40 percent of Canada’s voters, “appears to have evaporated almost overnight.”
The lessons to be learned from Justin Trudeau’s fall from PC grace are legion. If his polls continue to tank, he will have a great deal of time to contemplate them as a former prime minister at age 47. Perhaps he should ask himself if the identity politics he has long embraced are dividing Canadians and making it harder for the country to focus on issues that affect everyone.