On the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (September 30), Canadians across the country donned orange shirts; content creators paused their regular programming to encourage important conversations; and Indigenous-led ceremonies and events moved participants to tears.
Meanwhile, the recently re-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent the day on a breezy beach in Tofino with his family.
It’s been the better part of a week since, and we’re still in a state of head-shaking shock and anger.
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National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
The newest federal holiday marks a day to honour victims and survivors of Canada’s residential schools in the wake of the horrific discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of students earlier this year. To recognize the day, most public sector workplaces closed their doors.
On the eve of the ever-important day – one that Trudeau created himself – the prime minister delivered remarks during a ceremony, urging all Canadians to listen to the stories of residential school survivors. The prime minister was honoured with the invitation to visit Indigenous communities and participate in events the following day to mark the occasion.
The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation, which announced the findings of more than 200 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. earlier in the year, said it had sent “two heartfelt invitations” for Trudeau to join them. Naturally, you’d assume he’d accept.
Reconciliation or Surfing? Trudeau Chose the Latter
But Trudeau’s thoughts seemed to be more on the quality of the surf, as he was caught on video strolling the picturesque Tofino beach with his wife Sophie and the couple’s three children on September 30.
The prime minister’s official itinerary, however, misleadingly placed him in Ottawa in private meetings that day.
But the reality is that Trudeau blew off invitations from Indigenous communities to be part of their events – ones taking place in B.C., nonetheless – and hopped on a Canadian Air Forces plane for what he’d likely hoped would be an under-the-radar family getaway.
Thanks to flight tracking technology and an in-the-know media outlet armed with rolling cameras, however, this wasn’t the case.
On Thursday night, Trudeau tweeted that he had spent some time that day having phone conversations with residential school survivors from across Canada, “hearing their stories and getting their advice on the path forward.” A spokesperson confirmed Trudeau had spent several hours on the phone with eight people who lived through residential schools – and denied that the prime minister had used the day to take a personal vacation.
I 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. By listening and learning, we can walk down that path – and advance meaningful reconciliation – together.— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) September 30, 2021
So, what do you call it then?
Do as I say, Not as I Do
The discouraging reality is the fact that this isn’t the first grand display of entitled “do as I say, but not what I do behaviour” we’ve seen from Canadian politicians lately – from Doug Ford visiting his family for Mother’s Day in May 2020 when he told Ontarians not to because of COVID-19, to former finance minister Rod Phillips travelling to St. Barts in December when travel was strongly advised against for Canadians. The hypocrisy is maddening.
But this move obviously hits much harder. Especially from a public figure who has made some racist and extremely questionable decisions in the past. Not only is the Tofino family vacation a bad look that reeks of entitlement, it’s an extremely hurtful move. It’s a swift slap in the face to Canada’s Indigenous communities.
Naturally, the damage control began quickly, as it does in these types of situations. On Sunday, Trudeau’s press secretary confirmed he had apologized to the chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation Saturday for not responding to invitations to visit the community to mark the holiday.
In response, Lynne Groulx, head of The Native Women’s Association of Canada said she welcomed Trudeau’s behind-closed-doors apology but called on him to make a more public statement to Indigenous communities across the nation. We’re still waiting for that to happen.
Aside from the dismissal (borderline gaslighting) of Indigenous communities across the country, Trudeau’s actions also have the potential to diminish the importance of the holiday for fellow Canadians. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation can’t become an insignificant excuse for holiday.
On the topic of holidays; sure, it’s been a trying and dramatic month for the prime minister. And everyone’s entitled to quality time with their family. But why on earth choose to skip out on a family vacation on such an important day to Canadians? Could he not have waited to blend the vacation into Thanksgiving Weekend?
We simply can’t brush this one off.
Actions Speak Louder Than Tweets
Trudeau may shout from the rooftops that he’s an empathetic champion and supporter of Indigenous rights with each strategic photo op. He may Tweet about missing and murdered Indigenous females – like he did yesterday. But he sure didn’t show he truly cared about Canada’s Indigenous communities with his ill-timed Tofino stint.
As they say, actions speak louder than words. And Tweets.