Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s decision to spend the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on vacation in Tofino, B.C., is “more proof” that he “does not give a f–k about Indigenous rights,” one national Indigenous organization said on Friday.
Lynne Groulx, the CEO of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), made the assertion in a Friday press release, where she cited former NDP MP Romeo Saganash — who once stood up in the House of Commons and said Trudeau “doesn’t give a f–k” about Indigenous rights. Saganash later apologized for the remark.
The organization found out about Trudeau’s Tofino vacation “with shock and dismay,” they said in a press release, especially given Trudeau’s past comments that “no relationship is more important to his government than its relationship with the Indigenous people of this country.”
“Those words ring incredibly hollow when Mr. Trudeau could not take the time that his own government set aside to reflect upon the tragedy of the Indian residential schools and instead chose to flit off to Tofino for a holiday,” Groulx said in the release.
She reiterated the comments later the same day in an interview with Global News.
“Yesterday we saw an outpouring of empathy and compassion from across the country, coast to coast, from Canadians wearing orange taking action,” Groulx said.
“And our prime minister was missing in action.”
Groulx wasn’t alone in her disappointment. The government’s “words and actions have to be aligned,” National Chief RoseAnne Archibald of the Assembly of First Nations told The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson in an interview.
“They talk about being committed to our children and the path forward. Yet they fought us in court for years, they fought our children in court. So you can’t do two things at the same time,” Archibald said.
“When the prime minister talks about reconciliation, please, don’t go on a holiday on the very first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Participate in an event on the day, not the day before. That would be more in alignment with his real commitment to reconciliation.”
Trudeau spent the commemorative holiday in Tofino 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 also tweeted on Thursday evening that he “spent some time” on the phone with residential school survivors “from across the country” and heard their “advice on the path forward.”
On Friday, a spokesperson for Trudeau confirmed he spoke to fewer than 10 residential school survivors over the phone on Thursday.
“The Prime Minister spoke with eight residential school survivors from across the country over several hours yesterday,” said Trudeau’s spokesperson Alex Wellstead.
“It was an important opportunity to hear their stories of trauma and healing, and to hear their advice on the path forward.”
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 at 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 Conservative MP for the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo district, Frank Caputo, sent a letter to Trudeau on Friday noting that the prime minister chose not to visit the Kamloops Indian Residential School where unmarked Indigenous graves were first discovered, despite being “only a short distance away.”
“You have not visited the grave sites despite being Prime Minister and affirming reconciliation is a priority,” the letter reads.
For Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), Trudeau’s actions were a “slap in the face” to the families of residential school victims.
“The prime minister has spoken on many occasions about the need for reconciliation and said that it was a priority with this government,” Phillip said.
“Yet when he’s faced with the prime opportunity to demonstrate national leadership on this issue, he arrogantly turns his back on Indigenous children and goes to Tofino for a holiday.”
Phillip said Trudeau doesn’t have “any respect.”
“He’s completely consumed by his own arrogance and his delusional sense of self-importance,” he said.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a sombre 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.
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.