Prime Minister Justin Trudeau flew to Tofino, B.C., with his family Thursday, as Canadians marked the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, his office has confirmed.
Though Trudeau’s daily itinerary initially stated he was in “private meetings” in Ottawa, it was later updated to note he was in Tofino.
“Yes, the PM is spending time in Tofino with family for a few days,” the prime minister’s spokesperson, Alex Wellstead, told CBC News in a statement.
“And, following his participation in last night’s ceremony marking the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, he is speaking today with residential school survivors from across the country.”
Lynne Groulx, CEO of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, told Power & Politics that it was “quite upsetting” that the prime minister would travel on this specific day.
“This is a government that has said Indigenous people are [the] most important priority for the government and that action … does not match the words,” she said. “So that’s very inappropriate, in my view, for the prime minister.”
Trudeau, she said, should be “the one who is leading this reconciliation process.”
The Prime Minister’s Office later told CBC News that Trudeau spent several hours on the phone speaking to survivors.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was made a federal statutory holiday this year and will be marked annually on Sept. 30. It honours the children who died while being forced to attend the church-run and government-funded residential schools, as well as the survivors and Indigenous communities impacted by the system’s legacy.
More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend schools between the 1870s and 1997.
In 2015, Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended in its 94 calls to action that the federal government establish the holiday “to honour survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
In a statement released Thursday, Trudeau said the day was a time to “reflect on the painful and lasting impacts of residential schools in Canada” and to honour survivors.
“It is also a day to remember the many children who never returned home, and an opportunity for us all to learn more, and to affirm the need for reconciliation and commit ourselves to the work ahead,” he said.
The prime minister noted the discovery of unmarked graves near former residential schools this year, saying they “reminded us of not only the impacts of colonialism and the harsh realities of our collective past, but also the work that is paramount to advancing reconciliation in Canada.
The chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation, near the site of the former Kamloops residential school where some 200 unmarked graves were discovered this spring, told reporters that her nation extended two written invitations for the prime minister to visit the community Thursday to mark the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“I did hold out hope that he would be here today,” said Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir.
Trudeau spoke at sombre ceremony Wednesday
Trudeau spoke at an outdoor ceremony on Parliament Hill on Wednesday, after residential school survivors shared stories of the trauma and pain they endured.
“All of us — all of us — need to hold these stories in our hearts,” Trudeau said. “In our understanding, not just as we reflect on reconciliation, but as we reflect on this country.”
The prime minister stressed that the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is not just a day for Indigenous peoples, but for all Canadians to reflect on “the truth of the mistakes, of the evil that we did in the past” and the work that needs to be done to address injustice.
“Do not tell me, or try to explain, that the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is a day for Indigenous Canadians, it is a day for all Canadians,” he said.
“So tomorrow … take a moment to listen to the stories of a survivor, to an Indigenous elder who shares their perspective and their experiences in this country. And know that that story, their story, is your story as well.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted that he took part in a truth and reconciliation march in Vancouver with Indigenous leaders and some other New Democrats.