Toronto, Sep 20 (AP/UNB) — At a time when bigotry seems on the rise around the world and doors are being shut, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has become known as a champion of diversity. Now, amid his bid for re-election, that reputation is under attack in a furor triggered by a photo of him in brownface at a costume party two decades ago.
On Thursday, the 47-year-old Trudeau struggled to contain the uproar, begging forgiveness and confessing he failed to grasp how offensive his actions were.
"I have always acknowledged I came from a place of privilege, but I now need to acknowledge that comes with a massive blind spot," the son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said to applause from a large crowd at a park in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
With Election Day just a month away, his chief opponent in the neck-and-neck race, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, reacted by declaring Trudeau "not fit to govern this country."
Others wondered whether the incident would reinforce the belief among Trudeau's opponents that the boyish-looking sex-symbol politician is a lightweight, lacking in substance and maturity.
Trudeau, though, gave no sign whatsoever that he might resign, and there were no immediate calls from any leading figures in his Liberal Party to step down. Instead, many Liberals, some of them minorities, rallied around him, even as two more instances of him wearing brown- or blackface decades ago came to light.
"I think the real measure of the man, and I think the thing we need to be talking about, is all the amazing things we have done for diversity," said Greg Fergus, a Liberal member of Parliament who is black.
Fergus said there was a lot of confusion and hurt in the black community, but he noted that Trudeau apologized. And he pointed out that it was Trudeau who put Viola Desmond, a black woman who refused to leave the whites-only section of a Canadian movie theater in 1944, on the country's $10 bill.
Trudeau has long championed multiculturalism and immigration, with Canada accepting more refugees than the U.S. under the Trump administration. Half of Trudeau's Cabinet is made up of women, four are Sikhs, and his immigration minister is a Somali-born refugee. Canada has over 1.9 million people of South Asian descent out of a population of 37 million.
Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, a Liberal who is Sikh, said that the brownface picture was wrong but that Trudeau has a record of standing up for minorities. Trudeau named Sajjan Canada's first Sikh defense chief in 2015.
Mitzie Hunter, a Liberal who is running to lead the party in Ontario and is black, tweeted: "I know it is not representative of the man he is. This is a teachable moment for all of us. I accept his apology and I hope Canadians do too."
Time magazine published the brownface photo on Wednesday, saying it was taken from the yearbook from the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in British Columbia where Trudeau worked as a teacher before going into politics.
It shows the then-29-year-old Trudeau at an "Arabian Nights" party in a turban and robe with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck. Trudeau said he was dressed as a character from "Aladdin."
"Darkening your face regardless of the context or the circumstances is always unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface," he said. "I should have understood that then, and I never should have done it."
West Point Grey Academy issued a statement saying the event was organized by a culturally diverse group of parent volunteers. "That said, we recognize that cultural sensitivities have evolved over the past 18 years," it said.
Trudeau said he also once darkened his face for a performance of Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat Song (Day-O)" during a talent show when he was in high school.
And Canada's Global News TV network reported a third instance, broadcasting a brief video of Trudeau in blackface while raising his hands in the air and sticking out his tongue. A Liberal Party spokeswoman said the footage was from the early 1990s.
Scheer said his campaign team received the video from a concerned citizen and passed it on to the media.
Asked how many times he has worn brown- or blackface, Trudeau said: "I am wary of being definitive about this because the recent pictures that came out I had not remembered."
He said that he has dedicated himself as a politician to "counter intolerance and racism everywhere I can," and confessed to letting people down. "I stand here today to reflect on that and ask for forgiveness," he said.
Trudeau is the latest in a string of politicians to get in trouble over racially offensive photos and actions from their younger days. Earlier this year, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam withstood intense pressure to resign after a racist picture surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook.
But Trudeau was already vulnerable over a political scandal that erupted earlier this year when his former attorney general said he pressured her to halt the prosecution of a Quebec company. Trudeau has said he was standing up for jobs, but the scandal led to resignations and a drop in his ratings.
Trudeau was also mocked at home and abroad for repeatedly dressing up in colorful, traditional Indian garb during a visit to India in 2018.
As for the brownface furor, "I am deeply troubled by what this means to Canada. Young kids are not just going to see just one or two but multiple images of the prime minister mocking their lived reality," said Leftist New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, who is a Sikh. "This is so hurtful to so many Canadians."
Political analysts were uncertain what effect it might have on the election, noting that race is not as combustible an issue in Canada as it is in the U.S.
Still, Robert Bothwell, a professor of Canadian history and international relations at the University of Toronto, said he was flabbergasted.
"That's the kind of thing you do when you are a frat boy," Bothwell said. "Maybe at 29 he had no idea that he was going to go on to greatness, but his father would have never done that."
He added: "The case has never been conclusively made that Justin is a person of substance. I mean, he may well be. But that impression is just not out there."
Washington, Sep 19 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump on Thursday poured cold water on prospects for a bipartisan compromise on gun legislation, even as Attorney General William Barr circulated a draft plan on Capitol Hill to expand background checks for gun sales.
In a Fox News interview that aired Thursday, Trump said no deal is imminent, more than six weeks after mass shootings in Texas and Ohio killed more than 30 people.
"We're going very slowly," Trump said, adding that while he doesn't want "bad people" to have weapons, he won't allow any plan to move forward that takes guns away from law-abiding people or restricts Second Amendment rights.
A proposal being floated by Barr would require background checks on all commercial gun sales, including at gun shows.
The leaked proposal caused an uproar on Capitol Hill as lawmakers wondered whether Trump was poised to support expanded background checks in the face of opposition from fellow Republicans and the National Rifle Association.
But speaking to reporters on Air Force One as he returned home from California late Wednesday, Trump said the plan was just one of many ideas under consideration.
"Those are ideas that we're talking to Republicans, Democrats, everybody about. Some they like, some they don't like. Just a series of concepts," Trump said.
Trump told Fox that a call by Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke to confiscate assault-style rifles has made it more difficult for Republicans to reach agreement on gun control.
"Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47, and we're not going to allow it to be used against your fellow Americans anymore," O'Rourke, a former Texas congressman, declared during a Democratic presidential debate last week.
"Dummy Beto made it much harder to make a deal," Trump tweeted Wednesday. "A lot of people think this is just a way of taking away guns," Trump told Fox, adding that he won't let that happen.
Asked about the proposal to expand background checks for gun purchases, Trump distanced himself, saying the document was put out by Barr.
Still, Trump said Barr was working on his behalf to try to reach a deal. "We got Bill Barr involved. He's an expert on guns and gun control," Trump said.
Barr and Eric Ueland, the White House director of legislative affairs, have been meeting with lawmakers to talk about ways to reduce gun violence. Among the things they have discussed is a one-page document that would require background checks on all advertised commercial gun sales. The plan builds on a proposal by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to expand background checks.
Barr downplayed the proposal Wednesday, telling reporters, "We're just kicking around a number of ideas. The president hasn't made any decisions. I'm just kicking around ideas and perspectives so I'm in a better position to advise him."
Asked whether he would recommend the background check plan to Trump, Barr said, "I haven't shared any list of proposals. There are a number of different proposals that are being considered."
Even so, the NRA weighed in immediately, calling the proposal "a non-starter" with the NRA and its 5 million members.
The plan "burdens law-abiding gun owners while ignoring what actually matters: fixing the broken mental health system and the prosecution of violent criminals," said Jason Ouimet, the NRA's legislative director.
Manchin, who met with Barr on Wednesday, along with Toomey and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he remained hopeful.
Referring to Barr, Manchin said, "I think we're close to where he can take something to the president, to see if the president really wants to do something" on gun control.
Toomey said Barr's idea "is a mechanism for expanding background checks beyond what we have today. I have (Republican) colleagues who are open to that, so I'm modestly encouraged."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this week that Congress remains "in a holding pattern" on gun control as lawmakers await proposals from the White House.
Trump has previously pledged to veto a House-passed bill to expand background checks for gun purchases, but McConnell said he is hopeful there are other gun-related proposals that Congress can approve and Trump can support.
Trump and White House aides have discussed a number of gun control measures with lawmakers, including steps to go after fraudulent buyers, notify state and local law enforcement when a potential buyer fails a background check, issue state-level emergency risk protection orders, boost mental health assistance and speed up executions for those found guilty of committing mass shootings.
"I still await guidance from the White House as to what (Trump) thinks he's comfortable signing," the Kentucky Republican said Tuesday. "If and when that happens, then we'll have a real possibility of actually changing the law and hopefully making some progress."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have warned Trump that gun-control legislation must include the House-passed bill to expand background checks. Any proposal that does not include the House legislation "will not get the job done" because dangerous loopholes will be left open, the Democrats said.
Washington, Sep 19 (AP/UNB) — North America's skies are lonelier and quieter as nearly 3 billion fewer wild birds soar in the air than in 1970, a comprehensive study shows.
The new study focuses on the drop in sheer numbers of birds, not extinctions. The bird population in the United States and Canada was probably around 10.1 billion nearly half a century ago and has fallen 29% to about 7.2 billion birds, according to a study in Thursday's journal Science .
"People need to pay attention to the birds around them because they are slowly disappearing," said study lead author Kenneth Rosenberg, a Cornell University conservation scientist. "One of the scary things about the results is that it is happening right under our eyes. We might not even notice it until it's too late."
Rosenberg and colleagues projected population data using weather radar, 13 different bird surveys going back to 1970 and computer modeling to come up with trends for 529 species of North American birds. That's not all species, but more than three-quarters of them and most of the missed species are quite rare, Rosenberg said.
Using weather radar data, which captures flocks of migrating birds, is a new method, he said.
"This is a landmark paper. It's put numbers to everyone's fears about what's going on," said Joel Cracraft, curator-in-charge for ornithology of the American Museum of Natural History, who wasn't part of the study.
"It's even more stark than what many of us might have guessed," Cracraft said.
Every year University of Connecticut's Margaret Rubega, the state ornithologist, gets calls from people noticing fewer birds. And this study, which she wasn't part of, highlights an important problem, she said.
"If you came out of your house one morning and noticed that a third of all the houses in your neighborhood were empty, you'd rightly conclude that something threatening was going on," Rubega said in an email. "3 billion of our neighbors, the ones who eat the bugs that destroy our food plants and carry diseases like equine encephalitis, are gone. I think we all ought to think that's threatening."
Some of the most common and recognizable birds are taking the biggest hits, even though they are not near disappearing yet, Rosenberg said.
The common house sparrow was at the top of the list for losses, as were many other sparrows. The population of eastern meadowlarks has shriveled by more than three-quarters with the western meadowlark nearly as hard hit. Bobwhite quail numbers are down 80%, Rosenberg said.
Grassland birds in general are less than half what they used to be, he said.
Not all bird populations are shrinking. For example, bluebirds are increasing, mostly because people have worked hard to get their numbers up.
Rosenberg, a birdwatcher since he was 3, has seen this firsthand over more than 60 years. When he was younger there would be "invasions" of evening grosbeaks that his father would take him to see in Upstate New York with 200 to 300 birds around one feeder. Now, he said, people get excited when they see 10 grosbeaks.
The research only covered wild birds, not domesticated ones such as chickens.
Rosenberg's study didn't go into what's making wild birds dwindle away, but he pointed to past studies that blame habitat loss, cats and windows.
"Every field you lose, you lose the birds from that field," he said. "We know that so many things are killing birds in large numbers, like cats and windows."
Experts say habitat loss was the No. 1 reason for bird loss. A 2015 study said cats kill 2.6 billion birds each year in the United States and Canada, while window collisions kill another 624 million and cars another 214 million.
That's why people can do their part by keeping cats indoors, treating their home windows to reduce the likelihood that birds will crash into them, stopping pesticide and insecticide use at home and buying coffee grown on farms with forest-like habitat, said Sara Hallager, bird curator at the Smithsonian Institution.
"We can reverse that trend," Hallager said. "We can turn the tide."
New York, Sep 19 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump asked a federal court Thursday to block an effort by New York prosecutors to obtain his tax returns as part of a criminal investigation, opening another front in the president's efforts to keep his financial information private.
Trump's attorneys filed a lawsuit against Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who recently subpoenaed the president's accounting firm for eight years of his state and federal returns as part of an investigation into payments made to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.
They called the subpoena a "bad faith effort to harass" Trump and said Vance, a Democrat, had overstepped his constitutional authority.
"Virtually 'all legal commenters agree' that a sitting President of the United States is not 'subject to the criminal process' while he is in office," Trump's lawyers wrote. "Yet a county prosecutor in New York, for what appears to be the first time in our nation's history, is attempting to do just that.
The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan federal court, asks U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero to declare the subpoena unenforceable until Trump leaves office.
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said the lawsuit is intended "to address the significant constitutional issues at stake in this case."
A spokesman for Vance said his office had received the lawsuit "and will respond as appropriate in court." Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA, declined to comment.
The lawsuit marks Trump's latest attempt to prevent his tax returns from being seen by Democratic investigators and comes as his campaign is fighting a new law in California requiring presidential candidates to release five years of tax returns as a condition of appearing on the state's March 2020 primary ballot.
Trump's campaign and the Republican National Committee have sued, and a hearing is set Thursday in federal court in Sacramento.
Meanwhile, Democratic-led congressional committees are also trying to obtain Trump's tax returns and other records that could provide a window into his finances. Trump and three of his children filed a lawsuit in April seeking to block two House committees from getting records that his longtime lender, Deutsche Bank, has said includes tax returns.
And in July, the president sued to block a new New York law that could allow a House committee to obtain his state tax returns.
Unlike those efforts, Vance is conducting a criminal probe. His subpoenas were issued by a grand jury.
The grand jury also subpoenaed the Trump Organization for records related to payments that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen helped arrange to the porn actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal during the 2016 presidential campaign to keep either woman from speaking publicly about alleged affairs with Trump. He made one of the payments himself and arranged for American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, to make the other.
Cohen pleaded guilty to federal charges that the payments amounted to illegal campaign contributions. Federal prosecutors did not charge Trump or anyone else involved in either arranging the payoffs or reimbursing Cohen through Trump's company.
Trump has denied any sexual relationship with either woman and said any payments were personal matters, not campaign expenses.
In a letter to Manhattan prosecutors made public as part of Thursday's lawsuit, Trump's lawyers, Marc Mukasey, William Consavoy and Alan Futerfas, wrote that the Trump Organization had already willingly provided "hundreds of documents" to Vance's team of investigators.
Vance is also pursuing a mortgage fraud case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
New York, Sep 19 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump asked a federal judge Thursday to block an effort by New York prosecutors to obtain his tax returns.
Trump's attorneys filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York against the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who recently subpoenaed the president's accounting firm for eight years of Trump's state and federal returns.
The lawsuit was not immediately made public. But Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow told The Associated Press the lawsuit is intended "to address the significant constitutional issues at stake in this case."
A message was left with Vance seeking comment. Trump's accounting firm declined to comment.
The lawsuit opens a new legal front in Trump's long-running fight to prevent his tax returns from becoming public. It comes as the Republican president already is fighting efforts by Democratic-led congressional committees to obtain his tax returns and other records that could provide a window into his finances.
Trump and three of his children filed a lawsuit in April seeking to block two House committees from getting records that his longtime lender, Deutsche Bank, has said includes tax returns. And in July, the president sued to block the application of a new state law in New York that could allow a House committee to obtain his state tax returns.
Vance also has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for records related to payments that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen helped arrange to a porn actress who claimed she had an affair with Trump. The Democratic district attorney is also pursuing a mortgage fraud case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.