Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday apologised for a picture that showed him with his face coloured brown during an event at a school in 2001, Reuters reported. Brownface or blackface makeup, used by a white person playing the role of a non-white person, is considered racially offensive.

The picture, released by Time magazine ahead of national elections in Canada, was taken at a time when Trudeau, then 29 years old, taught at a private school. Trudeau was seen wearing a turban and robes with his face, neck and hands darkened at an event with the “Arabian Nights” theme. The magazine obtained the photo from the school’s 2001 yearbook through a Vancouver-based businessman.

“I should have known better then, but I didn’t and I did it and I’m deeply sorry,” Trudeau told reporters after the picture was published. He said he was dressed up in an Aladdin costume and “shouldn’t have done it”.

When asked if he thought the photograph was racist, Trudeau said: “Yes it was. I didn’t consider it racist at the time, but now we know better.”

The picture was criticised by Canadian political leaders. Trudeau’s main opponent, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, said: “I was extremely shocked and disappointed when I learned of Justin Trudeau’s actions this evening. Wearing brown face is an act of open mockery and racism. 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.”

Green Party leader Elizabeth May said she was “deeply shocked by the racism shown in the photograph”. “He must apologise for the harm done and commit to learning and appreciating the requirement to model social justice leadership at all levels of government,” she said. “In this matter he has failed.”

Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party, said: “I face a lot of racism in my life and I’ve got to be honest with you, I fought back with my fists. But there were a lot of people who weren’t able to do that. One of my friends told me how he was not able to do that. And seeing this image today, the kids that see this image, the people who see this image, are going to think about all the times in their life that they were made fun of, that they were hurt, that they were hit, that they were insulted, that they were made to feel less because of who they are.”

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