Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has apologised after a photo emerged of him wearing brownface makeup at an Arabian Nights themed gala in 2001.
The photo – which was obtained and published by Time magazine – shows a 29-year-old Trudeau dressed as Aladdin in a turban and a white robe and with dark makeup on his face, neck and hands.
It was taken while he was a teacher at West Point Grey Academy, an elite school in Vancouver.
“I should have known better then, but I didn’t and I did it and I’m deeply sorry,” Trudeau told reporters after the image – which was published in the school’s yearbook – emerged.
“I dressed up in an Aladdin costume and put make-up on. I shouldn’t have done it.”
He added: “I should have known better. It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognise it was something racist to do and I am deeply sorry.”
It is a major challenge for a leader who often speaks about the need to fight racial discrimination.
But Trudeau also admitted that he had dressed up in makeup when at high school and performed “Day O”, a traditional Jamaican song about people loading bananas onto boats.
The revelations come amid a battle by Trudeau for re-election, with Canadians set to head to the polls in just five weeks.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, one of the frontrunners in the race for the premiership, said he was “extremely shocked and disappointed” by the photo.
“Wearing brownface is an act of open mockery and racism,” he said. “What Canadians saw this evening is someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity and someone who’s not fit to govern this country.”
But the prime minister brushed off suggestions he would quit.
“I am going to be asking Canadians to forgive me for what I did ... it was a dumb thing to do,” Trudeau said. “I’m disappointed in myself. I’m pissed off with myself for having done it.”