Quebec appoints ex-journalist to help Indigenous families find answers on missing children
MONTREAL – Former journalist Anne Panasuk says it was important to get elders’ approval before accepting a job offer from the Quebec government to help implement legislation to help Indigenous families to find missing children.
“If the families were okay with it, I would go ahead, but first I wanted to make sure they were comfortable with the law,” Panasuk said of Bill 79. , which was adopted in June. The law allows indigenous families to obtain information on the disappearance or death of children admitted to a health or social service establishment in the province before December 1992.
“They told me to go,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. “And then I couldn’t refuse.”
Panasuk, a former Radio-Canada reporter who has reported on missing Indigenous children in Quebec, said Bill 79 gives families the tools they need to get concrete answers about missing children after they enter the country. state or religious institutions.
“Are we going to answer all the questions… I don’t know,” Panasuk said. “But I want to be able to tell someone who is slowly moving away because of Alzheimer’s disease that we have found their daughter.” We know where she is buried.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière said on Tuesday the government had appointed Panasuk as a liaison between the government and Indigenous families requesting information about missing loved ones. He said he hoped that Panasuk’s experience with First Nations communities would not only help the government implement Bill 79, but contribute to the process of reconciliation between the state and Indigenous peoples.
“I hope that Panasuk’s collaboration will allow families to move forward in their quest for the truth,” said Lafrenière.
Shortly after the passage of Bill 79, the Quebec government appointed Geoffrey Kelley, a former Minister of Indigenous Affairs in the Liberal Party, as negotiator between the province and Kahnawake, a Mohawk community southwest of Montreal.
The new law and the appointments of Panasuk and Kelley show that Quebec is making progress when it comes to addressing Indigenous issues, according to Joe Delaronde, spokesperson for the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.
“Everything is better than it used to be,” Delaronde said in an interview Wednesday. “It has always been frustrating for us, over the past few years we had virtually no political contact with Quebec.”
Kelley, he said, “was appointed because it was well known that he has a good relationship with us, there seems to be mutual trust and respect and this is seen as a very good initiative by the community”.
Panasuk, who is also an anthropologist, was one of the first journalists in Quebec to cover the disappearance of children from Indigenous communities and said she was routinely denied access to government information during of his reports.
“There were such absurd situations,” said Panasuk. “Like when a father whose child was taken to the hospital in La Tuque, Quebec. She was only two years old. We were told she was dead, but there was never a death certificate, and we learned later that she was not dead after all. She was transferred but we could not find out where because we did not have access to the medical files.
Having access to medical records, but also to archives of religious orders, will help researchers get a better idea of how many Indigenous children are missing, Panasuk said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 9, 2021.