Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized Wednesday night for wearing brownface at a 2001 “Arabian Nights”-themed party—less than two hours after TIME published a previously unreported yearbook photo from the private school where he was teaching.
Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, also admitted that he wore blackface “makeup” in high school to sing “Day-O,” a Jamaican folk song famously performed by African-American singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte.
“When I was in high school I dressed up at a talent show and sang ‘Day-O.’ With makeup on,” he said.
The publication of the photo embroiled his campaign in scandal, with Canadian reporters asking why he had not been forthcoming about the image if he knew it existed. Canadians go to the polls Oct. 21.TIMEJustin Trudeau, now the prime minister of Canada, appears in dark makeup on his face, neck and hands at a 2001 “Arabian Nights”-themed party at the West Point Grey Academy, the private school where he taught.
In a statement about the brownface photo to national media, Trudeau, who is in the midst of a reelection campaign, acknowledged he was in the picture, which shows his face, neck and hands darkened. “I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better but I didn’t and I’m really sorry,” Trudeau said.
During his statement, which he made aboard his campaign plane, Trudeau was asked multiple times by reporters whether he would resign. The prime minister avoided answering the question directly. “I take responsibility for my decision to do that. I shouldn’t have done it. I should’ve known better,” he said.
He added: “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.”