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Trudeau spends National Truth and Reconciliation Day in Tofino

Prime Minster Justin Trudeau is spending Canada’s first National Truth and Reconciliation Day in Tofino, on vacation with his family.
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A residential school survivor and family member stand with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday as he leaves a ceremony on Parliament Hill on the eve of the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Prime Minster Justin Trudeau is spending Canada’s first National Truth and Reconciliation Day in Tofino, on vacation with his family.

The PMO abruptly changed Trudeau’s official itinerary early Thursday afternoon, saying Canada’s leader will be in Tofino for “private meetings.”

He had originally been slated for private meetings in Ottawa. A spokesperson for Trudeau said: “Yes, the PM is spending time in Tofino with family for a few days.”

The Canadian Forces Challenger 604 jet — with call sign CANFORCE 1 indicating the PM is aboard — left Ottawa International at 8 a.m. eastern, touching down in the afternoon at Tofino Long Beach Airport.

The spokesperson said Trudeau had participated in a ceremony Wednesday evening marking the first National Truth and Reconciliation Day and planned to speak Thursday “with residential school survivors from across the country.”

Trudeau had received invitations from the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in Kamloops, which asked him “to join survivors and families today.”

The First Nation near Kamloops discovered 215 unmarked graves at a residential school earlier this year, a finding that triggered a wave of painful memories for residential-school survivors and their families across the country and renewed awareness of the schools’ dark history.

Trudeau’s decision to go to Tofino drew condemnation on Twitter.

“Wow. I’m floored,” tweeted Adam Donnelly. “[The prime minister] was extended two hand-written invitations to attend Truth and Reconciliation Day events [in Kamloops] … Shockingly bad judgement from the PMO here.”

Others accused him of setting bad example on a national holiday meant to honour Truth and Reconciliation.

“Truth and Reconciliation Day shouldn’t be treated like a holiday — but that’s what Justin Trudeau did,” Chelsea Tucker, spokesperson for the Conservative Party of Canada, told the Toronto Sun.

Trudeau and his family have visited Tofino several times over the years, the last time during the Easter weekend in 2019 when the family was spotted surfing on Cox Bay. The family was also there in August 2017 and 2016.

Calls to Ahousaht Chief Greg Louie and Tofino Mayor Dan Law were not immediately returned.

The Ahousaht First Nation, which is currently dealing with a COVID outbreak, had a residential school that operated from 1904 to 1940, and 13 deaths of children were reported there. The Christie residential school also operated at Meares Island and Tofino from 1900 to 1983, with 23 deaths reported.

Deaths of children at Canada’s 150 residential schools, which operated for more than century, were considered vastly underreported. More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children attended the schools until the last closed in 1997.

In July, the Ahousaht raised $75,ooo in a private FoFundMe campaign to cover the cost of ground-penetrating radar to find unmarked graves. In August, the federal government announced $83 million was being added to an existing $27-million program to fund searches of burial sites and commemorate the children who died there.

Trudeau’s Liberals were re-elected with a minority government on Sept. 20. Trudeau has yet to name his cabinet and there is a provisional Oct. 18 date for a return to Parliament, although that can be changed.

dkloster@timescolonist.com