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A Green party candidate running in Barrie, Ont., has admitted to wearing a blackface costume a decade ago, but said he'd rather talk about "the issues that are important" in his riding.
In an apology posted to Facebook on Tuesday, Marty Lancaster, a 47-year-old physics and environmental science teacher at Bear Creek Secondary School, said the costume was a mistake he "deeply regrets" and he's committed to educating himself on the issue. He later told National Observer he believes that "after this election, maybe we can have a conversation about systemic racism and all the issues related to it."
"It's frustrating that the press are trying to make this a story," he said. "That's your choice to decide whether this is going to be a story or if this is going to be a small thing and you can move on and focus on more important issues."
Race has been a powerful undercurrent in the leadup to and throughout the 2019 federal election campaign, which is witnessing the first racialized candidate for prime minister and a breakaway Conservative politician who founded a new party that taps into anti-immigrant sentiment. The issue took centre stage last month after shocking photos and video emerged showing the sitting prime minister in brownface and blackface.
Lancaster's admission makes him the second Green candidate revealed to have a history with blackface — the act of depicting people of colour in a cartoonish and dehumanizing way, which emerged as popular entertainment for primarily white audiences in America in the mid-19th century.
Lancaster is running for the second time as a Green candidate after finishing fourth in a six-person race in the 2015 election, which saw Conservative MP Alex Nuttall win the riding of Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte. (Nuttall is not running for re-election this fall.)
On Sept. 20, Global News reported that Greg Malone, a Green candidate in Newfoundland and Labrador, admitted he once wore blackface in a skit for the old CBC comedy show CODCO, where he portrayed Mahatma Gandhi.
"I think I wanted to figure out how to make an apology ever since Trudeau had his issue. It helped me to think back to all my costumes and realize that I'd done one as well."
Malone's admission came a day after Time magazine released images of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s past instances of wearing brownface and blackface, which Green Leader Elizabeth May called "deeply troubling and really shameful behaviour."
Trudeau has since apologized for these incidents, deemed them to be "racist" and said he was unaware of the wrongness of his portrayals at the time due to his "layers of privilege."
Lancaster said he was prompted to come forward after these events.
"I think I wanted to figure out how to make an apology ever since Trudeau had his issue," Lancaster said in an Oct. 1 interview with National Observer. "It helped me to think back to all my costumes and realize that I'd done one as well."
In his Facebook post, Lancaster wrote that he had "made a mistake and (he) would like to address it publicly."
He admitted to dressing up as Mr. T, who played a popular character in the 1980s television series The A-Team, a costume Lancaster wrote "perpetuates racist attitudes."
Lancaster told National Observer this incident occurred 10 years ago at a Halloween costume contest. He was a teacher at the time.
"It’s a mistake that I deeply regret and I’m furious at myself for being so irresponsible and ignorant with my actions," he wrote on Facebook. "It was not worn with malicious intent, but it does demonstrate my past misunderstanding of how hurtful blackface and similar costumes are.
"I now know better. I will continue to educate myself and work for opportunities to rebuild the trust of my community, my family and especially the community of persons of colour whom I have hurt."
In the interview, Lancaster said he made the admission and apology "based on a recognition that in the past, I wore a costume that may have offended others."
"But in this hypersensitive moment, it's not the best time to be discussing this," he said. "I want to have and encourage and support a longer, deeper conversation about systemic racism. But I also want to point out that the next generation is better. Previous generations were bad; we were systemically racist. But the next generation is better. They've moved the needle.
"This is a challenge for all of us to work through and figure out how to have a better conversation about race," he said, adding it would be "a reasonable, not high-energy conversation that works through all kinds of layers."
Lancaster admitted his community of Barrie is also grappling with the issues of racism, as previously reported by National Observer. But he said he doesn't have "a road map" at present on how to deal with those problems.
"My post was sincere," he said. "I am improving my understanding and capacity to understand."
But as a running candidate in the fall election, he says, he is focusing on the issues that he hears about most: affordability and climate change.
National Observer did not receive a response from the Green party at the time of publication.