'I regret it,' Trudeau says of travel to Tofino on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says travelling to Tofino, B.C. for a vacation on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was a “mistake” and he’s focused on making amends.

During an announcement on Wednesday, Trudeau addressed the controversy that drew criticism from politicians and Indigenous leaders last week.

“Travelling on September 30th was a mistake, and I regret it. The first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation was a time for Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people alike to reflect and connect, think about the past but also focus on the future," he said.

“There's a lot of work for us all to do and I'm committed to doing it."

Trudeau said he looks forward to visiting the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc, which invited the prime minister twice to events last Thursday in recognition of the day.

Despite a public itinerary that noted that Trudeau was in “private meetings” in Ottawa, his office later confirmed he had travelled to the West Coast to spend time with his family.

“I want to thank Chief Casimir of Tk’emlúps for the conversation we had over the weekend, which I apologized for not being there with her and her community," he said Wednesday.

The prime minister did participate in a ceremony the night prior and on Thursday he posted on Twitter that he spent time speaking on the phone with residential school survivors, getting their advice on “meaningful” reconciliation.

Parliament passed a bill last June to recognize a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation each Sept. 30. It is a statutory holiday for federal workers but the government has stressed it should be a day for reflection.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period on Sunday, Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, said Trudeau’s trip was a “complete letdown.”

“The prime minister decides that he can have a vacation day – he could have had the vacation day [Friday]. I support vacation, I know that they work hard, but not on the very first national day when we’re supposed to be spending the [time] doing the duty of reconciliation,” she said.

Asked in French on Wednesday what he makes of the fact that the controversy around the timing of his vacation diverted attention away from the importance of the day, Trudeau said he assumes responsibility to “do better” in the future.

“We will continue to do even more on the path of reconciliation, whether it’s continuing to eliminate long-term boil water advisories, whether it’s making sure there’s better investments in housing and support for kids going to new a better schools across the country,” he said.

Lynne Groulx, CEO of the Native Women's Association of Canada, thanked the prime minister in a statement published Wednesday but questioned the sincerity of his apology.

“Sadly, we recognize that this moment of contrition comes after much public pressure, not necessarily because you have suddenly seen the light. It will now be up to you to rebuild trust with our communities,” the statement reads.

 

“But we must move forward. There is still so much work to do on reconciliation. You could start, Prime Minister, by taking the genocide of Indigenous women in Canada seriously. You could start by implementing the Calls for Justice of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls today."