Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is spending the first National Truth and Reconciliation Day on vacation in Tofino, B.C., with his family, despite his official itinerary placing him in private meetings in Ottawa.
The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed the vacation in a statement sent to Global News.
“Yes the PM is spending time in Tofino with family for a few days,” Trudeau’s spokesperson wrote.
“And, following his participation in last night’s ceremony marking the first National Day for Truth & Reconciliation, he is speaking today with residential school survivors from across the country.”
His office later added that the prime minister’s itinerary would be updated to reflect his correct location.
Trudeau had received at least two invitations to spend the day with survivors and their families. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, a B.C. First Nation that uncovered the remains of 215 children a residential school site earlier this year, said they had sent “two heartfelt invitations” to Trudeau.
While Trudeau did end up travelling to B.C. on Thursday, it was to spend the day with family in Tofino, rather than to take the community up on their invitation.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a somber day intended to honour lost children and survivors of residential schools. The day gives Canadians a chance to reflect on the legacies of the residential school system, colonial policies and the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples in Canada. It was designated by Trudeau’s Liberal government.
An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children attended residential schools between the 1860s and 1996. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission documented stories from survivors and families and issued a report in 2015.
The report details mistreatment at the schools, including the emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children, and at least 4,100 deaths.
The day is a statutory holiday for all federal employees and federally regulated workplaces. However, unlike some other statutory holidays, it isn’t just a day off of work — but rather, it’s a day for reflection, according to survivors.
A spokesperson for Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole criticized Trudeau for spending the day in Tofino.
“Truth and Reconciliation Day shouldn’t be treated like a holiday but that’s what Justin Trudeau did,” said Chelsea Tucker.
She said O’Toole spent the day in Ottawa “taking the opportunity to remember and honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families, and their communities.”
Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attended an “orange shirt day” walk and ceremony Thursday outside Vancouver’s Aboriginal Friendship Centre, according to a spokeswoman.
In telling Canadians how to mark the day, survivors have suggested they take a moment of silence, or hang an orange shirt in their window. Canadians should also listen to the stories, they said, and educate themselves on the dark chapter of Canada’s history — a history that still affects many people today.
“It’s a day to have reflection. It’s a day to have these conversations.” Charlene Bearhead, the director of reconciliation at the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, told the Canadian Press.
Bearhead said education on residential schools needs to happen year-round, but teachers can pass on their own calls to action for students to share what they’ve learned with family, friends or their faith communities in the days leading up to Sept. 30.
Residential school survivor Geraldine Shingoose also said she believes it’s important that Canadians listen to survivors’ experiences.
“I ask Canada to see us, to hear us and to believe us,” she said, speaking to The Canadian Press.
-With files from the Canadian Press
— More to come
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.