Trudeau Spent the First Truth and Reconciliation Day on Vacation

Some extremely bad optics by Canada’s prime minister and his team.
On Canada’s first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided not to attend an event marking the day or spend time with residential school survivors but instead jetted off for an island getaway with the family.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his remarks during a ceremony on Parliament Hill Wednesday, the eve of the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

On Canada’s first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided not to attend an event marking the day or spend time with residential school survivors, but instead jetted off for an island getaway with the family. 

Initially, the prime minister’s itinerary said that Trudeau was spending the day in Ottawa in “private meetings.” However, a Toronto Sun journalist noticed the plane that typically carries the prime minister jetted off from Ottawa headed west at 8 a.m. local time. The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed to Global News that Trudeau is “spending time in Tofino with family for a few days.”


The PMO also pointed out that Trudeau attended an event marking National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, but on the evening before the actual day. 

Tofino, British Columbia, is a vacation spot on Vancouver Island, known for its beaches and surfing. The small tourist town has been a vacation destination for the Trudeaus for some time now (it’s where the now infamous “shirtless Trudeau” photo was taken). 

Later in the day, Trudeau’s office tweeted that the prime minister “spent some time on the phone today with residential school survivors from across the country, hearing their stories and getting their advice on the path forward.” 

Truth and Reconciliation Day is meant to honour the Indigenous children who died or went missing while attending residential schools, and the survivors, families, and communities still affected by their legacy. Canada ran residential schools with the help of churches to forcibly assimilate 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children. Disease, malnutrition, and physical and sexual abuses were common. 

While the day has been around since 2013, this was the first year it was elevated to the status of a national statutory holiday, after the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed the discovery of roughly 200 unmarked graves, likely of children, on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., in May.


Soon after the Kamloops discovery, communities in B.C., Saskatchewan, and Manitoba confirmed more than 1,000 additional likely unmarked graves. Experts have estimated there are as many as 10,000 to 15,000 unmarked graves of Indigenous children across Canada. 

Many commenters pointed out that this year in particular should be used for a moment of reflection. It’s not as if Trudeau didn’t have the opportunity to attend events, either. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc tweeted it “sent two heartfelt invitations to Justin Trudeau to join survivors and their families today.” 

Unsurprisingly, Trudeau received a wave of criticism for his decision to head to the surfing destination instead of spending the day with the Indigenous community.

“True reconciliation begins with showing up,” tweeted former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous woman who quit the Liberal caucus after falling out with Trudeau. 

Native Women’s Association of Canada CEO Lynne Groulx told CBC News Network that Trudeau “should be the one who is leading the reconciliation process.”

“This is very unfortunate. We’re trying to rebuild trust, we want to believe that the government this time around won’t break their promises,” she said. “Yet on this day that is so significant for us, the leader of the country is just not there. He’s on holiday.”

Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.