Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s recent Tofino, B.C., vacation was a “mistake,” he said Wednesday, apologizing for vacationing on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
He also reiterated that he has apologized directly to the Indigenous community whose invitations he ignored that day.
“Travelling on September 30th was a mistake, and I regret it. This first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation was a time for Indigenous people and non-Indigenous alike – to reflect, and connect, think about the past but also focus on the future,” he said.
“I want to thank Chief Casimir of Tk’emlúps for the conversation we had over the weekend in which I apologized for not being there with her and her community for this important day.”
He plans to visit Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc in person “in the coming weeks,” he added.
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.
On Friday, a spokesperson for Trudeau confirmed he spoke to eight residential school survivors over the phone on Sept. 30.
“It was an important opportunity to hear their stories of trauma and healing, and to hear their advice on the path forward,” said Trudeau’s spokesperson Alex Wellstead.
Trudeau’s itinerary that day originally stated he was in Ottawa taking private meetings, despite the fact that he was in Tofino. The itinerary was later updated, after Global News inquired about the inconsistency.
When a journalist asked Trudeau why his itinerary originally lied about his location on Sept. 30, Trudeau denied that there were any lies in the itinerary — despite footage from Global News that showed he was on a beach in Tofino, and his office confirming that fact.
“There was no lie,” Trudeau said, speaking in French.
“The itinerary said that I have private meetings, and I had calls for a number of hours that day with survivors of Indian residential schools.”
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.
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.
Indigenous leaders slammed Trudeau for spending the day on the beach with his family rather than with residential school survivors.
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.”
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) 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,” NWAC CEO Lynne 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.”
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.