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People hold hands and dance in a circle as drummers play during a Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc ceremony to honour residential-school survivors and mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, in Kamloops, BC., on Thursday, Sept. 30.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The latest: Justin Trudeau slammed for vacationing on day his government set aside for reconciliation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau flew to Tofino, B.C., for a holiday with family on the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, prompting criticism for not appearing at Indigenous events to mark the historic occasion.

Mr. Trudeau, who attended a solemn ceremony on Parliament Hill the night before, travelled to British Columbia on Thursday. His official itinerary didn’t disclose the plans. Instead, it said he was in Ottawa for private meetings. Only after flight-tracking data showed a Canadian Forces plane going to Tofino did his office confirm that he was on that flight.

Spokesperson Ann-Clara Vaillancourt said that Mr. Trudeau is spending time in Tofino with family for a few days. She also said that, after his participation in Wednesday night’s ceremony, he spoke Thursday to residential-school survivors from across the country. The office did not specify with whom he spoke.

The Prime Minister made no public appearances on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said two written invitations had been sent to the Prime Minister inviting him to a ceremonial event Thursday near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The site is close to where the remains of about 200 children were discovered buried in May.

“I did hold out hope that he would be here today, but I do know moving forward that it’s really important he truly uphold the 10 guiding principles of working with us as First Nations,” Kukpi7 Casimir told reporters at a news conference before the day’s event began.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not explain why Mr. Trudeau did not accept the request from Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc.

Mr. Trudeau said Thursday night on Twitter that he spent some time on the phone with residential-school survivors from across Canada, adding that he got their advice “on the path forward.” Global News discovered Mr. Trudeau walking on a beach in Tofino on Thursday, with video of the interaction showing that the Prime Minister didn’t answer the journalist’s question.

Former Liberal MP and cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said in a post on Twitter on Thursday: ”True reconciliation begins with showing up.”

During a House of Commons debate on establishing the day in October, 2020, B.C. Conservative MP Todd Doherty, whose wife and children are from the Esdilagh First Nation, said he worried the day would become “another excuse for a holiday.”

“That day is a day to honour the survivors and those that came through the program, it’s to remember, it’s to remember those who did not make it through,” he said.

In a statement on Thursday, the Conservative Party echoed those comments. “Truth and Reconciliation Day shouldn’t be treated like a holiday – but that’s what Justin Trudeau did,” spokesperson Chelsea Tucker said. “This is the pattern Canadians have come to know with Justin Trudeau. He says nice things about reconciliation but never follows through.”

Ms. Tucker said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole attended the commemoration ceremony on Parliament Hill on Wednesday evening and on Thursday, took the time to “remember and honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and their communities.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attended a local event in Vancouver. Mr. Singh went to the Orange Shirt Day walk and ceremony, outside of the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre, along with NDP MPs Jenny Kwan, Don Davies, Peter Julian and MP-elect Bonita Zarrillo. Orange Shirt Day, which also falls on Sept. 30, is a commemorative day to honour Indigenous children who survived residential schools and remember those who did not.

Mr. Julian and fellow NDP MP Charlie Angus both said they were surprised to hear that the Prime Minister went on vacation rather than attending public events with Indigenous people.

“For a day of such importance, particularly this year,” Mr. Julian said, “I just think the obligation of elected officials is to be with Indigenous peoples … and to honour them and hear their stories.”

With reports from Mike Hager in Vancouver and Bill Curry in Ottawa.

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