OTTAWA (REUTERS) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau drew criticism on Thursday (Sept 30) for flying to the West Coast on vacation on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation honouring the lost children and survivors of indigenous schools.
Trudeau's official itinerary said he would be taking a private day in Ottawa, not in Tofino, British Columbia, where he flew with his wife and three children. Global News said it had spotted his plane landing near Tofino, and later confirmed his arrival.
"The Prime Minister is spending time in Tofino with family for a few days," said Ms Ann-Clara Vaillancourt, a spokesman in the Prime Minister's Office, in a statement. He participated in a ceremony marking the holiday in front of Parliament on Thursday evening.
"He is speaking today with residential school survivors from across the country," she added.
Mr Trudeau later tweeted that he had spoken by phone "with residential school survivors from across the country, hearing their stories and getting their advice on the path forward".
Liberal leader Trudeau, who 10 days ago won a third election, made indigenous reconciliation a campaign priority, and in June his government introduced the federal holiday to underscore the legacy of the so-called residential school system.
The Tk'emlups te Secwepemc first nation in British Columbia, where unmarked graves of children were discovered earlier this year, said it had invited Mr Trudeau to attend their ceremony. Instead, the Prime Minister spent "several hours" speaking to school survivors and their families, a government source said.
The schools operated between 1831 and 1996 and removed about 150,000 indigenous children from their families. Some were subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition at schools in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called "cultural genocide".
"This is a government that has said indigenous people are (the) most important priority for the government, and that action... does not match the words," Native Women's Association of Canada chief executive Lynne Groulx told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
"He should be the one who is leading this reconciliation process," she said.
The discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked graves at two former schools earlier this year reopened the deep wounds left by the European colonisation of Canada and the subsequent efforts to assimilate indigenous cultures.
Canada's indigenous peoples suffer from higher levels of poverty and violence, and shorter life expectancies.
Trudeau has not had a holiday since embarking on a five-week campaign that criss-crossed the country on Aug 15.