Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “disappointed” and “pissed off” at himself after a 2001 yearbook photo of him in brownface surfaced Wednesday.
The photo, which was uncovered by TIME magazine on Wednesday, was taken at an “Arabian Nights”-themed gala at West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver, B.C., where the then-29-year-old Trudeau was a teacher at the time. In addition to darkening his face and hands, Trudeau is seen wearing a turban and robes.
“I shouldn’t have done it. I should’ve known better, and I didn’t, and I’m really sorry,” Trudeau told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.
Trudeau also admitted that in high school, he had performed “Day-O” — a traditional Jamaican folk song made famous by Harry Belafonte — “in makeup,” but did not discuss in detail what that entailed.
“I take responsibility for my decision to do that,” Trudeau said about the yearbook photo. “It was something I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist.”
Trudeau, who is in the midst of a re-election campaign, said he had called members of his cabinet to apologize and take responsibility for his actions. When asked whether he would resign over the photo, Trudeau did not respond directly and said he would be “asking Canadians to forgive me for what I did.”
Before the press conference, the leader of the New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh, condemned Trudeau’s actions as “insulting.”
“It’s insulting. Anytime we hear examples of brownface or blackfacing, 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,” Singh said. “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 and barriers and obstacles in their life?”
Trudeau, in his remarks to reporters, said he’ll be having several more conversations with his colleagues and determining how to move forward.
“I’m going to be thinking about how much harder I’m going to have to continue to work to demonstrate to Canadians that I am focused on building a better world with less discrimination, less intolerance, and less racism,” he said, “and that this choice that I made many years ago, which was the wrong choice and one that I regret deeply, I need to, I am owning up to and going to focus on moving forward.”