Justin Trudeau offered a public apology on Wednesday for travelling to Tofino for a family vacation on the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, saying it was a mistake that he now regrets.
The Prime Minister has faced sustained criticism from Indigenous leaders and opposition parties after flying to the Vancouver Island village on Thursday while the country was formally honouring survivors of residential schools and those who died while attending the institutions.
He told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday that he was “focused on making this right.”
“It is an important moment for Canada and Canadians to reflect not just on the past but on the present,” Mr. Trudeau said.
“Travelling on September 30th was a mistake,” he said. “And I regret it.”
Mr. Trudeau’s public itinerary for last Thursday stated that he was conducting private meetings in Ottawa, but the Canadian Forces plane that he was travelling on was picked up on flight radar. When questioned about the Prime Minister’s whereabouts, his office later confirmed that he was in Tofino with family.
In response to a question from a reporter on Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau tried to refute that there was deception in his itinerary. He said his schedule indicated that he had private meetings, adding that he was in calls for hours that day with residential-school survivors.
Last week, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said the Prime Minister did not respond to an invitation to attend a ceremony near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, where about 200 unmarked graves were located after a radar search earlier this year.
Mr. Trudeau’s remarks Wednesday follow a decision by the Prime Minister to contact Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir on Saturday to apologize.
“It was in error to choose to travel on that day and I apologized directly to Chief Casimir for not having attended the event she invited me to, which is why I’m looking forward to going to the community and sitting down with them in the coming weeks.”
Lynne Groulx, the chief executive officer of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, thanked Mr. Trudeau for his expanded apology.
Earlier this week, she called for him to make a broader apology to Canadians over his decision to travel on that day.
“Please do better in the future,” Ms. Groulx said Wednesday, adding that this moment of contrition follows public pressure. “It will now be up to you [Mr. Trudeau] to rebuild trust with our communities. But now we must move forward. There is still so much work to do on reconciliation.”
Nik Nanos, the founder and chief data scientist of Nanos Research, said that it is too early to say whether Mr. Trudeau has been damaged politically by his decision. But he said the apology should help stem any negative blowback.
“This is basically an example of another disappointment for individuals that support Justin Trudeau,” he said. “They would have liked him to walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to reconciliation.”
When asked Wednesday whether anyone advised him not to travel on that day, Mr. Trudeau replied by saying that how it happened is far less important than the fact that it happened, which he regrets.
After a caucus meeting in Ottawa, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said justice for Indigenous peoples will be a top priority for his party and it was “really telling” that Mr. Trudeau chose Sept. 30 to take a vacation.
“What message does that send to Indigenous people?” Mr. Singh said. “To see the Prime Minister be so careless with his actions, on a day that was that important, really hurt a lot of people.”
Prior to Mr. Trudeau’s Wednesday apology, Glen Hare, the Ontario Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), said in a statement that the Prime Minister’s actions on the national day amounted to a “serious lapse in judgment.”
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was created by Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal government. Since coming into office in 2015, Mr. Trudeau has reiterated that the most important relationship to him and his government is that with Indigenous peoples.
Mr. Hare said Wednesday that the Prime Minister and the federal government must demonstrate full commitment to moving forward with First Nations including the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
RoseAnne Archibald, AFN National Chief, said in a statement this weekend that “hollow apologies will no longer be accepted.” She said she expected concrete action and changed behaviours.
With reports from Menaka Raman-Wilms and Marieke Walsh
For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.