top of page

Rejoinder on Salim Mansur's article, "Justin Trudeau's brownface pseudo-controversy&quo

Editor's Note: Doğan D. Akman discusses how Justin Trudeau was caught in the “hysteria about racism” that he, and the Liberal party that he leads, have done much to foster. Mr. Akman is retired from the Federal Department of Justice where he worked as a Crown Prosecutor and then civil litigator specializing in aboriginal law. His Time of Israel blog can be found at


Pierre Elliott and Justin Trudeau: Racists? By Doğan D. Akman

Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Justin Trudeau

The business of Justin Trudeau expressing seemingly profound grief and regret for having dyed his face black on three occasions of youthful social frolicking, convicting himself of racism and seeking forgiveness ad nauseam has gotten out of hand. He is overdoing it and those who are buying into his self-characterization of the events as racist are simply over the top. After all, prior to becoming a politician, Trudeau was a high school drama teacher who taught his students the arts of costume, make up and stepping into the shoes of all kinds of fictitious characters and acting in those roles in a convincing manner. In the circumstances, surely the fact that the then 29-year-old Trudeau wore a turban and robe, with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck was hardly surprising or shocking then, and should not be so now. More of the same followed when a picture of his face and hands painted brown began to circulate. The occasion for this alleged racist episode was the annual banquet of the school where he taught drama before entering politics. The theme of the dinner for the year in question was “Arabian Nights” and for the occasion, he dressed as a character from “Aladdin.” Surely, in the circumstances, it was quite reasonable for him to choose the appropriate makeup and costume for the character he portrayed, in a manner befitting a former drama teacher. And I venture to guess thatthe people attending the banquet would have been quite disappointed if he had failed to do so. One cannot be fairly accused, let alone be convicted of committing racist acts on the basis of the principle of strict liability; that is, regardless of the person’s intentions at the material time. Nor should one self-flagellate himself for such acts. The key test to determine guilt or innocence in such circumstances, is to determine whether or not Trudeau painted himself black and brown full intending to make a racial slur about black and brown people? I do not have the slightest doubt that Trudeau did not intend to make any racial slurs. However, the current political times are so very correct and the hysteria about racism has become so stifling that, during a federal election, Trudeau has no choice but to plead guilty and apologize in order to cut his electoral losses and move on. In expressing his regrets, Trudeau attributed his misconduct to his privileged upbringing. Well, the history of the Trudeau family - father and son - tells us that privileged upbringing does not have anything to do with it. Trudeau the son, as attested by the subjects he taught, likes costuming and makeup. This is a cultural trait he inherited from his father, who in his youth had a taste for weird inappropriate clothing. So it was that on the eve of W.W.II, our former, much esteemed Prime Minister, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, zoomed through the streets of Montreal on his motorcycle wearing a German army helmet in the days of fascist anti-Semitic Montreal Mayor Camillien Houde. I am not sure why Trudeau Sr. did what he did. It could have been because he was a) prankster of bad taste; b) a fascist; c) a Nazi sympathiser; d) an anti-Semite; or e) trying to prove to his “macho” father that he too was a “macho” guy; an image he sought to burnish throughout his life and more particularly during his political life. Or he could have been any combination or all of these things. Yet, during his lifetime I never heard of or read about Pierre Trudeau accused of being a costume prankster of bad taste, a Nazi, a fascist, or an anti-Semite for doing so. As a matter of fact, speaking from my two personal encounters and related dealings with him, during my student days at the University of Montreal during 1962 to1964, where Trudeau taught law, I never got that impression. In 1963, we had a good chat, when I knocked at his door and upon being courteously invited to sit down; I presented him with my very first article which dealt with the financial injustice being perpetrated by the Government of Quebec against students who, like me, were landed immigrants but not Canadian citizens. He read the piece, agreed with it and had it published in Cité Libre, a leading reformist periodical of the day. In 1964, we had another good chat when I invited him to team up with Gerard Pelletier, then editor of the Montreal French daily newspaper, La Presse, to debate, before the students of the university, the issue of separatism v. federalism with two leading “separatists” of the day. During both of our meetings, he struck me as a man committed to the protection and promotion of the rights of all citizens and newcomers, the inherent and legal human right to be treated respectfully regardless of their ethnic, national, racial, religious, socio-economic and sexual identities. If he had been a fascist, a Nazi, an anti-Semite he did not look it, he did not act it, and speaking as a member of the Jewish community, nor did he have the smell or scent of one. As a matter of fact, he was the political father of multiculturalism in Canada, which in retrospect, he did not like the way it had turned out. His inoffensive personal “machoism” and his propensity to prankster in weird costumes are fine by me. Even if he had been one or more of those other repulsive types, he certainly wasn't any one of them some 20 years later. I am sure that the political operatives of the parties in opposition or the press researched thoroughly Pierre Trudeau’s antecedents, would have read or heard about his Montreal frolics, and wouldn't have made a big deal of it when he ran for election in 1965 or when he became the Minister Justice and subsequently when he was elected to lead the Liberal party; or faced the electorate in 1968, 1972 ,1974 and 1979. And, for someone who once wore a Nazi helmet, unlike his son, he appointed Jewish MPs to important portfolios in his very first and subsequent cabinets throughout his tenure as Prime Minister. Nothing of the sort happened because in those days, unlike nowadays, neither the politicians nor the public were obsessed with racism, looking for it under every nook and cranny and eager to accuse others of it, at the drop of a hat. Had this been the case, Canada would have been deprived of the leadership and services of a fine Prime Minister, who among other things reformed the Criminal Code and in the process kept the nation out of Canadians' bedrooms; he repatriated the Canadian Constitution, enacted a new one and made sure to insert in it the mighty powerful Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the meantime, Trudeau the son, father of the mindlessly politicised identity-based multiculturalism, is getting an ugly taste of it.


Doğan D. Akman practiced law with the Federal Department of Justice for 24 years before his retirement in 1999 .He voted for the father but does not vote for the son.

bottom of page