Trudeau’s ultimate test in making apologies

After apologizing often for official misdeeds of past governments, the prime minister faces voters over a racist-tinged misdeed and their judgment on his contrition.

CBC via Reuters
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologizes Sept. 18 for wearing brownface makeup in 2001.

Soon after becoming Canada’s leader in 2015, Justin Trudeau directed his justice minister to increase the use of restorative justice for criminal offenders in the country’s indigenous communities. If they fess up, apologize, and make amends to victims, their penalty would be light. Now Mr. Trudeau, who is in the midst of a reelection campaign, is seeking restorative justice for himself.

After being outed this week for wearing racist makeup 18 years ago at a party, he apologized for engaging in a stereotype that, even at the time, was viewed as mocking and dehumanizing. He also apologized in private to leaders in the minority communities, asking them for advice on what he can now do. “This is about me taking responsibility,” said Mr. Trudeau.

Canadians, who hardly view Mr. Trudeau as racist because of his policies, will be able to decide soon on whether to forgive him for this past behavior – and not revealing it – or whether to punish him and set an example. They vote Oct. 21 in a parliamentary election. If Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party wins and he survives as prime minister, it could be a reflection on how much Canadians accept his self-reflection.

The prime minister is certainly well practiced in making apologies, mainly on behalf of the government over official wrongdoings in the distant past, such as discriminatory actions against gays, European Jews, and indigenous war chiefs. He is seen as Canada’s most apologetic leader. In 2016, he apologized to two female legislators for a physical encounter during a charged debate in Parliament. Earlier this year, however, he refused to apologize for intervening in the prosecution of a Quebec company for corruption, saying he was merely trying to save jobs.

Mr. Trudeau has done much to bring social healing for public injustices in Canada’s past. Now he seeks a type of justice for himself by apologizing and trying to make amends. Like a judge looking into the heart of a defendant for genuine remorse and an acceptance of what is right, voters must decide whether to apply restorative justice to their prime minister.

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