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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledges Algonquin survivor Celine Thusky on the eve of Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, honouring the lost children and survivors of Indigenous residential schools, in Ottawa. The next day he flew to Tofino, B.C., on Vancouver Island for a family getaway.BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced growing criticism on Friday, including from an organization representing Indigenous women and girls, for vacationing in Tofino, B.C., on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Mr. Trudeau’s plane flew past Kamloops on Thursday, where he had been invited to mark the inaugural day at a First Nation’s ceremony near the site where the remains of former residential-school children were found in unmarked graves earlier this year. His office has not explained why he did not attend that event. He did not attend events in Tofino, either.

Instead, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Friday that Mr. Trudeau spoke with eight residential-school survivors from across the country over several hours on Thursday. The office did not identify the individuals. He attended a ceremony on Parliament Hill Wednesday night but did not participate in any events on the official day.

On Thursday, Mr. Trudeau’s office confirmed that he would be at the popular tourist destination in British Columbia with family for a few days, despite the fact that his public itinerary stated that he would be holding private meetings in Ottawa and made no mention of his travel.

PMO spokesperson Alex Wellstead said Friday that the Prime Minister was staying at the same private residence in an area that he previously visited and the use of this location has been cleared by the Ethics Commissioner. The six-bedroom beachfront property is listed for sale at $18.8-million.

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Trudeau flies to Tofino for a vacation with family as Canada marks first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

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The Native Women’s Association of Canada said in a statement that it was shocked and dismayed by Mr. Trudeau’s decision, particularly after he has stated publicly that no relationship is more important to the Liberal government than that with Indigenous people.

The organization’s CEO Lynne Groulx said 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.”

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A home where Mr. Trudeau and his family are reportedly staying in Tofino, B.C., on Oct. 1, 2021.The Globe and Mail

The creation of a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was one of the calls to action from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. Thursday was the first time the country marked the day.

Ontario NDP MP Charlie Angus questioned if anyone could imagine a prime minister trying to explain that he spent Remembrance Day at the beach. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was designed to recognize survivors, he added, noting that Mr. Trudeau’s decision to go to Tofino on that day showed “very bad judgment.”

Mr. Wellstead said on Thursday that “he wasn’t on a beach.” Later, however, Global News published video of Mr. Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, walking on a beach.

The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s Truth and Reconciliation walk began Thursday morning at the Nation’s Tin Wis resort that sits on the former site of the Christie Residential School, a kilometre north of the Prime Minister’s beachfront retreat.

More than a hundred people marched 3.5 kilometres down the highway into Tofino and began listening to survivors describe the colonial education system, including some who had left their homes that morning and noticed the Prime Minister and his entourage enjoying a vacation, according to Tofino Mayor Dan Law.

“There were certainly some people who thought that was in rather poor taste,” Mr. Law said.

Judith Sayers, president of Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, which represents roughly 10,000 members of 14 First Nations in the region, said Mr. Trudeau’s recent actions contradict his rhetoric on prioritizing the improvement of Ottawa’s reconciliation efforts.

“It’s almost a flagrant, in-your-face kind of thing – at least to us as Indigenous peoples – because the first national day of Truth and Reconciliation was an important one,” said Dr. Sayers, Chancellor of Vancouver Island University whose ancestral name is Kekinusuqs.

“And it should have been important to the Prime Minister to take time to go to Kamloops or at least to have gone into Tofino to join the Nuu-chah-nulth.”

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who was in Milan on Friday for a meeting ahead of an international climate conference, strongly defended Mr. Trudeau’s vacation and his record on reconciliation. He said he thinks Canadians will look at Mr. Trudeau’s “track record.”

“I find it very unfortunate that people are questioning that commitment,” Mr. Wilkinson said.

At an Ottawa news conference Friday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu did not speak to Mr. Trudeau’s choice, saying she could only speak to her own experience of the inaugural day, which she called “profound.”

“I can’t speak to other people’s scheduling,” Ms. Hajdu said. “What I saw in my community was a commitment to reconciliation.”

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said the First Nation sent two invitations to the Prime Minister to attend its ceremonial event Thursday near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

On Friday, Mr. Wellstead said the PMO spoke directly with Kukpi7 Casimir. The Prime Minister will be reaching out to speak directly with Kukpi7 Casimir and “we are making arrangements to visit Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc in the near future,” he added. However, Mr. Trudeau’s office has not explained why the Prime Minister did not attend the event to which he was already invited.

In a statement Thursday, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs called the Prime Minister’s decision to skip the event an “arrogant dismissal” and “slap in the face” to residential-school survivors. “If this event was before the election; Trudeau would be there on both knees,” it said.

Mr. Trudeau has vacationed in Tofino for years, in part because locals and other tourists don’t seem to care about his presence, the mayor said.

“People just let people chill out,” said Mr. Law, adding that most of his five kids have run into the Prime Minister in the past while they were kayaking or playing in a local park.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister surfed alongside tourists and locals at Chesterman beach.

When he emerged from the water, he walked back to his beachside accommodation carrying his yellow surf board, and would not respond to questions from a reporter.

With reports from Justine Hunter in Tofino, Rick Cash in Toronto and The Canadian Press

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