Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office says he has apologized to the chief of a British Columbia First Nation which invited him to visit on Canada’s first National Truth and Reconciliation Day.
Trudeau flew to Tofino, B.C., last Thursday to spend time with his family on a day meant to mark the painful legacy of Canada’s residential school system.
Global News filmed the prime minister walking along a beach, and the resulting video shows him declining to offer any comment.
Trudeau tweeted that he had spent time on the phone that day talking and listening to residential school survivors after it was revealed he was on the West Coast instead of in Ottawa as his itinerary had initially stated.
Nonetheless, reports of his trip sparked criticism from Indigenous leaders who said it was disrespectful of him not to attend events honouring residential school survivors as many others had.
The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation, which earlier this year announced the findings of more than 200 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., shared on social media that it sent “two heartfelt invitations” for Trudeau to join them on Sept. 30.
The nation’s discovery in May set off weeks of mourning across Canada. It saw hundreds of tiny shoes and stuffed animals placed near the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill as well as at other sites around the country to honour the lives of the children who never came home from residential schools.
Knowledge of the unmarked graves and the reckoning it stirred within many Canadians was part of what prompted Parliament to pass a bill naming Sept. 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The move was also among the 94 calls to action put forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its landmark 2015 report.
Trudeau’s office said on Sunday he reached out to Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir a day earlier and offered his apology.
A spokesperson for the First Nation confirmed that a conversation and apology took place, but offered no other details.
Trudeau’s office also said the prime minister looks forward to visiting soon.