Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly apologized on Wednesday for travelling to Tofino on Sept. 30, the country’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Trudeau addressed the issue while speaking at a press conference in Ottawa to announce a new COVID-19 vaccination mandate for federal workers.
“Travelling on September 30 was a mistake and I regret it,” the prime minister said. “The first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation was a time for Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people alike to reflect and connect, think about the past but also focus on the future.”
He said he had called Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir on Saturday and “apologized for not being there with her and her community for this important day.”
“It was a mistake to travel on that day,” he said. “This is an important moment for Canada and for Canadians to reflect not just on the past but on the present. I was in error to choose to travel on that day and I apologized directly to Chief Casimir for not having attended the event that she invited me to, which is why I am looking forward to going to the community and sitting down with them in the coming weeks.”
Trudeau was asked what led to the decision to travel and whether anyone had advised him not to.
“I think how it happened is far less important than that it happened, which I regret,” he responded. “We will continue to do even more on the path of reconciliation, whether it’s continuing to eliminate long-term boil water advisories, whether it’s making sure that there’s better investments in housing and support for kids going to new and better schools across the country in indigenous communities, there’s much work to do and I am committed to doing it.”
Tofino is in the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and TFN members Timmy Masso and Hjalmer Wenstob led a gathering outside the beachfront property Trudeau was staying at on Chesterman Beach on Saturday evening to demand a public apology from the prime minister.
“For me and for so many people across Canada, it’s our job to keep our prime minister in check and always try to make sure that they’re addressing their mistakes when they make them,” Masso told the Westerly News following the prime minister’s statements on Wednesday.
“It is a little bit reassuring to know that he’s stepping up and owning that mistake…In Nuu-chah-nulth culture, when you make a mistake, you make sure you address that publicly and make sure you have everyone to acknowledge that you made that mistake so you can go forward, so I’m glad that he addressed that publicly.”
He added though that the prime minister’s apology must be followed up by action.
“I think that is truly the first step, but there are so many steps to regaining respect and, for me, I’m still disappointed in him. One thing that we called for was to address that publicly, but there’s a lot of steps to regain that respect and on that path to reconciliation you have to work together,” he said.
“For me personally, and this is kind of a sad thing though, I’ve lost a lot of respect for our prime minister through various actions that he’s done…and then to finally drive that peg into the wall you see him going on a vacation on this first Day for Truth and Reconciliation. For me, when it comes to regaining respect, there’s so many things that he has to do. He has to own up to previous mistakes that he’s done and try to move forward with everyone, not just have it as lip service of ‘I’m sorry and I’m going to be different now.’ I’ve seen so many politicians say that and then go on and repeat the actions they’ve done in the past.”