- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized Wednesday after TIME published a picture of him from 2001 in brownface.
- While apologizing, he also admitted to wearing blackface during a high school talent show. Soon after, the second picture in question circulated around the internet.
- The next day, Global News published a video of a third incident that appeared to show the prime minister in blackface again.
- This news is expected to significantly hurt Trudeau in Canada’s election next month, which is already expected to be a close call for Trudeau’s Liberal Party.
Brownface Photo Surfaces
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing backlash after three separate instances of the Liberal Party leader in brown and blackface surfaced this week.
The incident first came to light on Wednesday, when TIME published a photo of Trudeau wearing brownface. According to TIME, the photo was taken in 2001 at an “Arabian Nights” themed gala at the private school where he was teaching at the time.
The outlet reported that they had been given a copy of the school’s yearbook with the photo earlier this month by a businessman named Michael Adamson, who “first saw the photograph in July and felt it should be made public.”
Shortly after the story broke, Trudeau responded in a press conference, where he confirmed that the story was true.
“I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better, but I didn’t, and I’m really sorry,” the prime minister said. “It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist to do, and I am deeply sorry.”
“I have worked all my life to try and create opportunities for people, to fight against racism and intolerance. And I can just stand here and say that I made a mistake when I was younger and I wish I hadn’t,” he continued.
When asked by a reporter if that instance was the only time in his life he had done black or brownface, Trudeau admitted that he had.
“When I was in high school I dressed up at a talent show and sang ‘Day O.’ With makeup on,” he said.
After that new admission, the picture in question circulated around the internet.
Third Blackface Instance Exposed
Towards the end of the news conference, a reporter asked Trudeau if he would like to speak to any other instances where he had engaged in racism.
“Do you want to tell Canadian’s about any other instances where you were concerned that you were racist? Or that you had blackface or brownface on?” the reporter asked.
“I think its been plenty,” Trudeau responded, seemingly to the first part of the question. “The fact of the matter is that I’ve always, and you’ll know this, been more enthusiastic about costumes than is sometimes appropriate. But these are the situations that I regret deeply.”
“Is it the only two or are there more?” the reporter clarified.
“These are the situations that I regret deeply,” the prime minister repeated.
However, on Thursday morning, the Canadian outlet Global News published a video that appeared to show Trudeau wearing black makeup on his face and all over his body while sticking out his tongue and making faces.
Global News reported that they had received the video from a source in the Conservative Party earlier this week, but had to verify the video before publishing it.
“A senior member of the Liberal campaign confirmed it was Trudeau early Thursday morning but would not comment further,” the outlet reported, also noting that the video was taken sometime in the 1990s.
Trudeau addressed the situation again in a longer press briefing Thursday afternoon, where he apologized directly to people of color in Canada.
“What I did hurt them, hurt people who shouldn’t have to face intolerance and discrimination because of their identity. This is something that I deeply, deeply regret,” he said.
“Darkening your face, regardless of the context, of the circumstances, is always unacceptable, because of the racist history of blackface. I should have understood that then, and I never should have done it,” he added.
The prime minister also said that he did not remember any other times that he did blackface or brownface when asked by a reporter.
A number of politicians and party leaders in Canada responded to the incident after TIME published the photo.
Jagmeet Singh, the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, who is Sikh, addressed the photos in an interview Wednesday.
“It’s troubling, I mean, it’s really insulting,” he said. “Anytime we hear examples of blackface or brownface it’s really, it’s making a mockery of someone for what they live and what their lived experiences are.”
“I think he needs to answer for it. I think 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 color of their skin face challenges, barriers, and obstacles in their life,” he added.
The leader of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May, also chimed in, saying in a tweet that she was “deeply shocked by the racism shown in the photograph of Justin Trudeau.”
Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who is also Trudeau’s main opponent responded in a video of his own.
“Like all Canadians, I was extremely shocked and disappointed when I learned of Justin Trudeau’s actions this evening,” the opposition leader said.
“Wearing brownface is an act of open mockery and racism, it was just as racist in 2001 as it is in 2019. And what Canadian’s saw this evening was someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity, and someone who is not fit to govern this country.”
However, some have pointed out that Scheer has recently rejected calls for him to kick out members of his own party for making racist or homophobic comments. Earlier this week, he even said he would stand by candidates who had made offensive comments in the past as long as they apologized.
“As long as someone takes responsibility for what they’ve said, and addresses the fact that in 2019 some things that may have been said in the past are inappropriate today, that if anything that they’ve ever said in the past caused any type of hurt or disrespect to one community or another and have apologized for that, I accept that,” he said.
“You know, I accept the fact that people can make mistakes in the past.”
This incident could not come at a worse time for Trudeau, who faces an already contentious election in one month.
Trudeau’s re-election prospects dipped earlier this year after it was revealed that his former justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, an indigenous woman, claimed that the prime minister and an aide pressured her to reach a settlement in a criminal case against the Canadian-based engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin.
The criminal case in question would have prevented SNC from getting lucrative government contracts, and Trudeau argued that settling the case would save thousands of jobs.
However, many saw the incident as a prime minister, a self-described feminist who claimed to champion indigenous rights, directing his mostly male aides to bully an indigenous woman to protect a corporation that financially benefited the Liberal Party in Quebec, where Trudeau is from.
Now, experts believe that this new blackface scandal could seriously hurt Trudeau’s chances of re-election.
The prime minister fell drastically in the polls after Canada’s ethics commissioner found that he had broken the country’s conflict-of-interest law in the SNC debacle.
Even before the blackface controversy broke on Wednesday, the Conservative and Liberal parties were polling neck and neck at 34.4% and 34.2%, according to the CBC News poll tracker, which aggregates all of the other public polls.
In an already close race, experts are now saying this blackface revelation could pull not only more progressive voters away from the Liberal Party, but also centrist voters.
Canada also has a large population of people who are of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent. Those demographics have been a key source of support for the Liberal Party and Trudeau in the past, specifically in areas around Toronto, which are seen as key electoral battlegrounds for the Liberals.
With this recent controversy, it is unclear where those voter bases, which could be essential to giving Trudeau the edge he needs to be re-elected, will cast their votes next month.
See what others are saying: (TIME) (CBC) (The Guardian)
Hong Kong Undercuts Press Freedoms, Effectively Bans Freelance and Student Journalists
- Hong Kong just changed who it recognizes as journalists, using a system that would be easier to track them and restrict who can register as one.
- The move was highly criticized as a way to restrict freelance and student journalism. The issue has sparked conversations and concerns about freedom of the press, speech, and more.
- The change comes the same day that mainland China sentenced billionaire Ren Zhiqiang to 18-years for varying corruption charges. The charges, however, are seen as retaliation for criticizing President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in March.
- On top of civil rights issues, concerns for human rights increased following a Tuesday report that highlighted the extent of a labor camp system in Tibet.
Hong Kong Press Under Attack
Police in Hong Kong issued new rules Tuesday that effectively ban freelance and student journalism, and allow police to more easily track and restrict journalists who are part of a recognized media organiztion.
In Hong Kong, the formerly autonomous city was known for its democracy, free speech, and independent journalism. Yet, recent events have effectively forced changes in the city, and the latest escalation targets journalists.
In a letter to four local journalist groups, Chief Superintendent Kenneth Kwok said that changes would be made to Police General Orders, which are police rulings. These recent changes would redefine who law enforcement recognizes as journalists. Currently, the police recognize “media representatives” as reporters, photographers, and television crews who carry proof of ID from newspapers, agencies, and television or radio stations.
Kwok’s letter explained the changes, saying, “After the amendment, the definition of ‘media representatives’ under the Police General Orders will be more concise and clearer, allowing frontline personnel to identify media representatives more efficiently and swiftly,”
These changes require domestic journalists to register with a state database that keeps track of their identity and credentials. Foreign journalists working for a “prominent” foreign news outlet are exempt from registering.
These latest changes will likely gut freelance and student journalism as neither group is employed by a news organization. Both those groups are bothersome to Hong Kong police, who accuse them of actively taking part in protests and demonstrations rather than impartially reporting them.
Local press groups don’t see the issue that way. A statement by eight organizations and associations characterized the changes as a major attack on independent journalism in the city.
“Today, the police have broken this relationship by planning to make a significant amendment without first discussing and consulting our sector. We demand the police to scrap the relevant amendment, or we will respond by taking any possible and necessary measures.”
The head of the Hong Kong Journalist Association, Chris Yeung, added his thoughts in an interview with the Hong Kong Free Press, saying, “It is quite regrettable. [The existing arrangement] was worked out among police, the government, and us years ago. It was an important part of our relationship.”
This attack against the press isn’t a new thing. On multiple occasions over the last few weeks, journalists were fined for breaking coronavirus public gathering restrictions while covering demonstrations after providing Hong Kong Journalist Association credentials.
Billionaire Sentenced to 18-Years Behind Bars
Many of the restrictions Hong Kong is beginning to face aren’t new to Mainland China. For decades, the mainland hasn’t had freedom of the press, association, or speech. The case of Ren Zhiqiang, for instance, highlights the lack of freedom of speech in China.
Ren is a Chinese billionaire who was sentenced to 18 years in prison Tuesday for embezzling $16.3 million in public funds, accepting bribes, and abusing power that caused the loss of $17.2 million for a state-owned company that he once was in charge of.
Despite none of those charges being directly related to freedom of speech, his case is seen as retaliation for something he wrote. Ren, a life-long Communist Party member, has a long-standing reputation of speaking out against the leadership of the Communist Party.
His most recent critique allegedly came in March, when a letter appeared on Chinese social media that attacked how the government was handling the COVID-19 outbreak. The letter is technically anonymous, but media outlets in China and across the globe have stated that Ren was the author.
Adding to that possibility was the fact that shortly after the letter came out, Ren disappeared in March. It wasn’t until April that charges were brought against him.
Ren’s alleged letter didn’t waste time criticizing the Communist Party. “This outbreak of the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic has verified the reality: when all media took on the ‘surname of the Party,’ the people ‘were abandoned’ indeed. Without a media representing the interests of the people by publishing the actual facts, the people’s lives are being ravaged by both the virus and the major illness of the system.”
“Surname of the Party,” is a euphemism used by party officials in 2016 to say that the press needed to be loyal to the Party. At the time, Ren critiqued that decision and was suspended as a party member for a year.
The letter in March also referenced a conference President Xi Jinping gave talking about the virus, saying: “I too am curiously and conscientiously studying [Xi’s teleconferenced February 23] speech, but what I saw in it was the complete opposite of the “importance” reported by all types of media and online. I saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his “new clothes,” but a clown who stripped naked and insisted on continuing being emperor.”
“Despite holding a series of loincloths up in an attempt to cover the reality of your nakedness, you don’t in the slightest hide your resolute ambition to be an emperor, or the determination to let anyone who won’t let you be destroyed” he continued.
To be clear, it’s possible that Ren actually did everything he’s been accused of. Embezzling and accepting bribes are often how relationships between businesses and Communist party officials work in China. The sentencing court also recognized that he “voluntarily” admitted to all the charges.
However, the timing reflects a pattern in China that suggests officials are fine with minor forms of corruption if its mutually beneficial and only crackdown when someone gets on their bad side.
Constant confessions mean that courts have a 99% conviction rate, although most cases on the mainland are against business people and party officials.
Tibetan Vocational Training
On top of curbing the freedom of the press in Hong Kong, or allegedly silencing a critic on the mainland, a Tuesday report by German Anthropologist Adrian Zenz details a widespread labor camp system similar to what is happening in Xinjiang.
All across China, there are “vocational training centers,” many of which are used to combat poverty. However, in places like in Xinjiang, they are believed to be used to sinicize the local ethnic and cultural groups. The extent of these camps varies/ Xinjiang officials are accused of extrajudicial detentions and cultural genocide, while the camps in Tibet are seen as coercive efforts to change the populations.
Like Xinjiang, Tibet is filled with ethnic and religious minorities, many of whom live a traditional nomadic, herding lifestyle. According to Zenz’s report, which was corroborated by outlets like Reuters, Tibet’s program has “trained” half a million Tibetans. That’s 1/6 of all Tibetans.
The reason Tibet’s program has drawn particular concern is because revelations indicate that not only is the program being used to combat poverty, but it’s also being used to specifically target those with traditional lifestyles in order to “modernize” them.
Zenz notes that while extrajudicial detentions don’t seem to happen in Tibet, there is a heavy emphasis on coercing the population to join the military-style labor camps by party and government officials.
See What Others Are Saying: (South China Morning Post) (Independent) (The Guardian)
Myanmar Soldiers Claim in Confession Video They Were Ordered to Kill and Rape Rohingya
- Two Myanmar soldiers have appeared in a confessional video claiming to have been ordered to kill and rape Rohingya in 2017.
- These are the first two first-hand accounts from Myanmar soldiers confirming widespread accusations that the Myanmar military partook in potential genocide against ethnic Rohingya.
- However, the veracity of the claims hasn’t been confirmed, nor has whether or not the soldiers gave their confessions under duress by the rebel Arakan Army, who released the video.
- Both men are currently at The Hague being interrogated by investigators at the International Criminal Court.
Genocide in the 21st Century
Two members of the Myanmar military appeared in a recently released video where they seemed to admit that they were ordered to pillage, kill, and rape Rohingya Muslims in 2017. The confessions appear to match accounts of the situation in Rakhine given by Rohingya survivors.
The Rohingya are a prominent ethnic group that live in the Rakhine state in western Myanmar, which borders the sea and Bangladesh. They have been described by the Myanmar government as “illegal aliens” despite having been in the region as far back as the 15th century.
Over the decades, the Rohingya have been persecuted by the Myanmar military, which has demanded that they “return” to neighboring Bangladesh. In 2017, those tensions escalated when the military heavily cracked down on the Rakhine state and engaged in what human rights have described as having the “hallmarks of genocide.” Not only were Rohignya targeted, but many other people across the region.
At the time, video and satellite images of the areas showed large scale destruction, with many villages completely burned down. Tens of thousands fled their homes to refugee camps in Bangladesh.
According to Private Myo Win Tun and Private Zaw Naing Tun, the two men seen in the confessional video, “We destroyed the Muslim villages near Taung Bazar village. We implemented the clearance operations in the night-time as per the command to ‘shoot all that you see and that you hear.’ We buried a total number of 30 dead bodies in one grave.”
Justice Being Sought
The two soldiers are said to have fled Myanmar last month and arrived in Bangladesh, from where on Monday they were transported to The Hague, home of the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands.
As for the veracity of the video, that is harder to determine. It is unclear if the soldiers are giving this confession under duress, or if they surrendered as deserters. The video was filmed by the Arakan Army, the largest and most organized militant group in Rakhine state, who represent a coalition of various ethnic groups in the region against the central Myanmar government.
This lends to the possibility that the men were coerced to confess under duress. Yet, the Arakan Army has a long standing feud with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, the main militant group representing the Rohingya,who would benefit the most from admissions of genocide.
However, many Human Rights Groups think the confessions are legitimate.
“This is a monumental moment for Rohingya and the people of Myanmar in their ongoing struggle for justice,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer at Fortify Rights. “These men could be the first perpetrators from Myanmar tried at the I.C.C., and the first insider witnesses in the custody of the court.”
The Myanmar government continues to deny any wrongdoing in Rakhine, stating that the operations there were to clear out terrorist elements. Any footage of burned down villages has been waived away as Rohingya burning down their own villages for sympathy. Since 2017, only a handful of soldiers have been punished with short prison terms for “isolated” incidents.
The two soldiers held at The Hague are not under arrest, but are effectively in custody awaiting a potential trial. Lawyers and investigators have already spent weeks investigating their claims, and their testimony will likely be used by prosecutors at the International Court of Justice.
There, Myanmar is being accused in a filing by Gambia of trying to “destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part, by the use of mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages.”
See What Others Are Saying: (CNN) (New York Times) (Reuters)
Large Fire Erupts in Beirut’s Port, Weeks After Massive Explosion
- A large fire erupted in Beirut’s port Thursday, triggering panic among residents who are still traumatized by last month’s massive explosion. The Aug. 4 blast of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate left 190 dead, more than 6,000 injured, and 300,000 displaced from their homes.
- It’s not yet clear what caused the fire and crews are working to put it out. Residents have been warned to stay clear of the area in the meantime and no casualties were immediately reported.
- This is the second fire to break out at the port this week and it comes about a week after Lebanon’s army discovered four tons ammonium nitrate stored near the port.
- Some believe the fire was set intentionally to hide evidence related to the explosion. For now, residents continue to live on edge as their distrust in the country’s management grows.
Fire Breaks Out
A huge fire broke out in Beirut’s port on Thursday, terrifying local residents who are still recovering from the last month’s devastating explosion.
Video posted online shows people running from massive flames and thick black smoke, which can be viewed from miles away.
The fire was said to have started in a warehouse of a private company that imported cooking oil. It then spread to a separate stock of rubber tires, but as of now, there’s no information about what caused the blaze.
No casualties were immediately reported, though we some reports of people with shortness of breath. According to the state-run news agency NNA, Beirut’s governor told residents to stay clear of the port area “for their safety” and to allow firefighters to perform their duties unhindered. All roads leading into the port are blocked off, and the Lebanese Army is currently working to help firefighters by dropping water on the flames from helicopters.
Trauma From Last Month’s Blast Lingers
The fire broke out near a major highway known as a free zone, where companies store goods that have yet to clear customs. That area, like much of the port, was heavily damaged in the Aug. 4 explosion. That explosion was caused by a 2,750-ton stock of ammonium nitrate that was improperly stored for years. Records later showed that government officials knew of the dangerous chemical stockpile but failed to act.
The blast ultimately left 190 dead, more than 6,000 injured, and 300,000 displaced from their homes. For many, that explosion was the last straw, prompting major protests against longrunning corruption in the country, which was already suffering through its worst economic crisis in decades.
The protests eventually pushed the Prime Minister of Lebanon and his cabinet to resign, though many have still called for widespread reforms that will bring more meaningful change.
Still, even with the government resigning, fear within the community has persisted. Just last week, the Lebanese Army said it had found more than four tons of ammonium nitrate stored near the port. They disposed of it, but it was a chilling discovery that made many uneasy.
Then a smaller fire broke out earlier this week, which also caused a scare but was eventually put out by firefighters. This latest fire just builds onto the existing panic. People at the port and nearby neighborhoods have been scrambling flee or hide out of fear that this fire could cause a new explosion.
One local whose car and apartment were destroyed in the last month’s explosion told The New York Times, “I’m telling myself that nothing’s going to happen and it’s probably not a big deal, but you can’t fight the anxiety of opening all the windows, sitting inside a corridor or being jumpy all the time and having people call you, telling you to leave the area.”
Another person who was leaving the area with his wife and kids told Reuters, “I am forced to get them out of Beirut from the smoke and the fire that is happening at the port again.”
With a large fire so close to the original location of the explosion, some have speculated that it was deliberately set to destroy evidence. Others believe it’s just another example of what the country’s mismanagement brings.
Some, like Lebanese MP Rola Tabsh, are calling for an international investigation into the Beirut port fires.
“Beirut has suffocated from the smoke of your oppression. Beirut has burned from the fires of your corruption and arrogance,” she tweeted.
“An international investigation now and not tomorrow.”