TORONTO – South Asian and Arab groups are reacting to a 2001 image of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in brownface, calling on him to follow-up his apology with action.

Trudeau apologized late Wednesday after the photo emerged. It was published in a yearbook from West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver, B.C, where Trudeau worked as a teacher.

Fareed Khan, founder of Canadians United Against Hate, speaking to Power Play host Don Martin

He admitted that it was wrong, he called it what it was, which is racism. He did the things that needed to be done when something like this happens. It is racist, it’s offensive. It’s microaggression in some ways against people of colour and certainly brown people. His response was entirely appropriate. However, he has to learn from this moving forward. And not just him, but all the leaders have to learn from this -- that when we’re talking racism and hate and bigotry in Canada, which is growing, that there needs to be more than just talk, there needs to be more than just words. There needs to be decisive action, and the government has not acted decisively to counter the hate narrative that we’ve seen growing in Canada over the last number of years.

We seem to discuss these issues in silos, and the fact is, racism has been pervasive in Canada. We usually look to the U.S. and say, “Oh it’s bad there, it’s much better here.” But no, we do have racism. All you have to do is look at the way blacks are treated, at the way Indigenous Canadians are treated. Muslims since 9/11 certainly have felt persecuted. And now we have what’s happening in Quebec, where the government has passed a clearly racist bill, which is targeting people of faiths -- it’s mainly meant to target Muslims.

And I think the one thing this incident is doing, and I think hopefully it continues to do for the rest of the campaign, is raise the issue of racism and how we’re going to deal with it. The government put out an anti-racism strategy in the spring after consultations following the M103 debates. But in my view, and in the view of a number of people who contributed to the discussions around that, it was entirely inadequate. The government needs to be more aggressive in targeting racism and hate. Both the RCMP and CSIS have come out and said in reports a number of years ago that the primary security threat in Canada is not foreign-inspired terrorism, it’s white supremacy. I think we need to look at that, and this issue i think is going to bring the debate around to that discussion.

Statement from Samya Hasan, Executive Director of The Council of Agencies Serving South Asians, in part

What the Prime Minister did was unacceptable. Of course, our communities feel hurt and saddened by this. It’s demeaning, it’s racist. The colour of our skin is not a costume prop. However, those of us who are working to combat systemic racism and hate are actually not surprised to see a privileged white male resorting to this behavior.

At the same time, I disagree with what the media and political rivals are trying to spin this story as. This is not about whether or not the Prime Minister is racist, it’s about the system in which we live in that is inherently racist and makes people think it is okay to mock racialized people’s lived experiences and appearances.

People should be looking at this and talking about this; not just in respect to the Prime Minister, but critically looking at the racism, oppression, and hate that us Brown, Black and Indigenous people experience in our dat to day lives. We should use this as an opportunity to learn, reflect and change instead of using it for mudslinging for political gains.

It is also interesting to note that the loudest voices right now that are “outraged” by how offensive this is are not people of colour (POC). We really don’t need anyone to be offended by this on our behalf. What we do need is non-POCs to really look into the struggles of racialized communities and think about how they can be allies to our causes.

Mustafa Farooq, Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, speaking to CTV News Channel

There’s room for everyone to learn from their mistakes, to come back. It’s not really my call as to whether the prime minister should or shouldn’t step down. That’s a decision he and Canadians are going to think about.

As a non-partisan organization, we can say clearly that, what’s unacceptable is for people to say things that are racist, say things that are Islamophobic, say things that are anti-Semitic, and then to insist on those positions, or to not appropriately ground their apologies in the real harm or hurt that’s been caused.

For example, if we look at Ghada Melek, who’s a candidate in Mississauga Streetsville. You know, her apology regarding sharing hateful posts … The apology that she sent was to leader Andrew Scheer, not to the Muslim community, never once using the word Islamophobia in talking about her apology. So I think we have to look at each case context by context, and we are happy that the prime minister has apologized.

Clearly, the photographs were not acceptable, but we are pleased the prime minister has recognized that they’re not acceptable, that they’re repugnant, and that they have no place in our politics.

University of Ottawa professor Noor El-Kadri, President of the Canadian Arab Federation, speaking to CTV News Channel

This is outrageous. It is racist to the bone. At a time when we see Mr. Trudeau -- he’s talking a lot about inclusion and diversity and all these things, this uncovers what is inherent within him. This is truly not the son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

We would accept that if that happened for somebody who was 17 years old at a Halloween party, but not for somebody who was 29 years old, who was a teacher, who was the son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was very knowledgeable of politics, of racism, of inclusion, of multiculturalism. In fact, if he grew to 29 as such ... he has to come up with an apology and follow up that apology with a lot of action, rather than just words.

If Pierre Elliott Trudeau was alive back then, he would not have allowed his son to do such a costume. It would show inherent racism, for communities in Canada that are marginalized, for communities that are trying to be included, for communities that face racism day-in day-out … to be portrayed in one form or another by someone who is the son of a prime minister … and now is a current prime minister.

Statement from the World Sikh Organization of Canada

The PM has apologized and we acknowledge his apology.  

We hope that this focus on racism will encourage all party leaders to address the discrimination many face as a result of Quebec’s#Bill21 with strong positions and solutions to combat intolerance across Cda.#BattleBill21