Canadians from Newfoundland to British Columbia struggled with the past misdeeds of their leader this week when images surfaced of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in blackface and brownface makeup.
Could this be the same Trudeau who has welcomed thousands of refugees and has frequently apologised for Canada's history of indigenous abuse? Did the images from his past diminish his efforts in public life? And when it comes to October's national election, could Canada, a nation that prides itself on its cosmopolitan cities and generous citizens, forgive a prime minister for actions that even he called racist?
Some found themselves wondering about the real Trudeau.
"Is it the one behind closed doors, the one when the cameras are turned off that no one sees?" asked Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh and the leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party. "Is that the real Mr. Trudeau? Because more and more, it seems like it is."
Trudeau apologised Wednesday and Thursday for his conduct, saying he was "deeply sorry" for the three occasions he wore blackface or brownface, as a student in the 1990s and as a teacher at a private prep school in 2001. But many people on social media and national talk shows rejected Trudeau's claim that wearing brownface was not generally viewed as racist in 2001, when he appeared in dark makeup and a turban in two photos.
"Do I think Trudeau is a racist? No," said Jaskaran Singh Sandhu, a political consultant who has worked for all three major parties in Canada. "Do I think these acts in and of themselves are racist? Yes. It seems to me that this really, really reeks of privilege."
Evan Sambasivam, from Toronto, which has a large South Asian population, said it was difficult to reconcile his support for Trudeau's Liberal Party with his Sri Lankan descent. "I don't know if I will end up voting for someone else, but if I excuse Trudeau, then I excuse anyone else guilty of making a mockery of my skin color," he said.
Some indigenous people expressed similarly conflicted feelings. Kim O'Bomsawin, a leading indigenous filmmaker who has documented the murder of indigenous women, said it was initially shocking to see Canada's prime minister partying in brownface.
Jody Wilson-Raybould, an indigenous lawmaker who clashed with Trudeau while she was in his Cabinet, told reporters that at first she did not believe the reports of the brownface photo were real, according to The Canadian Press. "It's completely unacceptable for anybody in a position of authority and power to do something like that," she said.
But O'Bomsawin also stressed that the cultural context had changed dramatically since 20 years ago, when parents dressed their children as Pocahontas for Halloween without fear of a backlash. Trudeau, she said, looked foolish but shouldn't be judged too harshly.
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"In 2001, we didn't have the same debates about cultural appropriation as we have today," she said. "Justin Trudeau is constantly doing ridiculous things, but this episode is more ridiculous than offensive. If he had done it in today's context, it would be much more offensive, as things have evolved since then."
Political columnists who rarely favor Trudeau criticized him Thursday for not being forthcoming about the episodes until his hand was forced by the first photo's publication by Time magazine on Wednesday.
"This election is about who voters should trust to lead this country in difficult times," writer John Ibbitson wrote in The Globe and Mail. "How can they trust a leader who committed a racist act and then kept it hidden, hoping no one would find out?"
In The National Post, columnist Christie Blatchford wrote, "It seems unlikely to me that Trudeau would have forgotten either the incident or the picture that was taken, especially as over the years, white people wearing blackface came to be recognised as racist and absolutely toxic to politicians."
And at least one candidate for Trudeau's Liberal Party criticized him Thursday — an unusual break, since Canadian politicians are expected not to challenge their leaders publicly.
In a Facebook post, Katie Omstead, a Liberal candidate in southwestern Ontario, noted that Trudeau did "apologise sincerely and accept full responsibility." But she suggested that his explanation was not entirely satisfactory.
"I simply don't care how old these images are," she wrote. "I know, as does he, how serious this is. We need to continue to have conversations about discrimination, and what we can do to teach our children, and those of us who lead, to respect the diversity of all Canadians."
Peter Donolo, the former director of communications for former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, said that he hoped the upheaval would persuade Trudeau to stop suggesting that his party holds a moral high ground over its rivals. "I never thought that was a good look for him," Donolo said.
But Donolo said that the extent to which the revelations would affect Trudeau's reelection bid remain to be seen.
"We're in a white hot moment now," Donolo said. "I honestly don't know how significant the impact will be."
Many voters may conclude that Trudeau's record of championing ethnic diversity and immigration, he said, offsets the offensive acts he did years before entering politics. As prime minister, Trudeau has welcomed thousands of refugees, promised to improve the lives of indigenous people and apologised for historical abuses.
In line at a Tim Hortons coffee shop in Brampton, Ontario, a Toronto suburb, a conversation about Trudeau broke out among people who said they were immigrants who supported the prime minister.
"My kids wear different kinds of costumes and it's OK," said Jatinder Singh. "To me, he didn't do anything wrong."
Even people who thought Trudeau behaved inappropriately shared a similar sentiment. "I found it offensive," said Rose Noseworthy, outside the grocery store where she works in the Brampton Mall. "But I don't see him losing votes over that. I would still vote Liberal."
In majority French-speaking Quebec, a region with outsize influence in Canadian elections, Trudeau's pro-immigration stance appeared to soften the blow of the photographs.
The issue of multiculturalism has been center stage in Quebec in recent months, after the right-leaning government passed a law banning teachers, judges and police officers from wearing religious symbols while at work. Trudeau has firmly castigated the law, saying it is an affront to Canadian values.
In Papineau, Montreal, the electoral district Trudeau represents and an area with a dense immigrant population, Georges Azar, an IT technician who emigrated to Canada from Lebanon in 2008, said he would be voting for Trudeau again in these elections and the photos had no effect on his decision.
"I don't think the photo changes anything," he said. "What makes a difference is that it was a night with friends, with people he liked. Yes, he painted his face, but I don't feel it was to make fun of people or to hurt."
Suraj Shing, 35, an Uber driver from India, said he wasn't voting for Trudeau because he was annoyed about his rising rent. But the photographs didn't bother him. "Maybe somebody thinks it's racist," he said. "I don't think so because he's a very nice guy, he goes to mosques, he's a very multicultural guy."
Written by: Dan Bilefsky and Ian Austen
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES