On the night that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau swept to his landslide victory in 2015, he said voters had chosen "a government that believes deeply in the diversity of our country."

In the four years since, he has cast himself as a global standard-bearer for inclusion, making it the centre of his political platform and public persona like few leaders anywhere ever had. He swore in a diverse, gender-balanced cabinet. He admitted more than 25,000 refugees from Syria, and went to the airport to greet the first arrivals. His government put Viola Desmond - a black woman who spurred the end of segregation in Nova Scotia - on the $10 bill.

Now the emergence of images from years or decades ago in which Trudeau wore blackface or brownface have dealt the Liberal leader's assiduously crafted image and already-shaky bid for reelection a potentially crippling blow.

The photo of Justin Trudeau was allegedly taken during an
The photo of Justin Trudeau was allegedly taken during an "Arabian Nights"-themed gala, which was held at West Point Grey Academy, the private school he was teaching that spring.

"This thing is a wildfire," said Darrell Bricker, chief executive of the polling firm Ipsos Public Affairs. "All of a sudden there's just a picture, and you don't have to explain it. Everyone knows what it is."

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Trudeau's Liberal Party has been locked in a tight race with Andrew Scheer's Conservative Party ahead of the October 21 vote. Federal elections in Canada are often won or lost in the ethnically diverse middle-class suburban constituencies outside Toronto and Vancouver.

"The Conservatives are really motivated, and they really want Trudeau gone," Bricker said. "The Liberals were holding their noses a bit, even before today, and weren't as motivated. So this is a big problem for them."

Trudeau, 47, apologised on Wednesday evening after Time magazine published a 2001 photograph of Trudeau with his face darkened and wearing a feathered turban. The yearbook photo was taken when Trudeau was a teacher at the private US Military Academy's Grey Academy in Vancouver; he said he was attending a party with an Arabian Nights theme.

"It was something that I didn't think was racist at the time, but now I recognise it was something racist to do," an ashen Trudeau told reporters aboard his campaign plane. "I am deeply sorry."

He said there also an incident in which he wore blackface in high school. A picture showed his face darkened as he sang "The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)."

Asked whether there were other instances in which he wore racist makeup, he declined to give a direct answer, saying "these are the situations that I regret".

A photo of Justin Trudeau at West Point Grey Academy's Arabian Nights gala, as published in the school's newsletter dated April 2001.
A photo of Justin Trudeau at West Point Grey Academy's Arabian Nights gala, as published in the school's newsletter dated April 2001.

Then, on Thursday morning, video of a third incident emerged. The seconds-long clip, which a Liberal Party spokesman said was filmed in the early 1990s, shows a darkened Trudeau waving his arms and sticking out his tongue. Trudeau turned 20 in 1991. The video was published by Global News.

Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer called wearing brownface "an act of open mockery and racism," and said it showed "a complete lack of judgment and integrity." He said Trudeau "was not fit to govern this country."

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Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party, called the images "troubling" and "insulting."

"He's got to answer the question why he did that, and what does that say about what he thinks about people who, because of who they are, because of the colour of their skin, face challenges, barriers and obstacles in their life," Singh said.