Veteran investigative reporter tapped to help Indigenous people in Quebec get answers about missing loved ones

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière has appointed Anne Panasuk as a special advisor to help implement Bill 79.

Anne Panasuk will lead province's plan to give First Nations access to medical and religious records

Investigative journalist Anne Panasuk will be the new point person to help Indigenous families in Quebec find answers about missing loved ones. (Radio-Canada)

Anne Panasuk, a former Radio-Canada journalist who has worked extensively with First Nations communities in Quebec, says she couldn't pass up the opportunity to work as a special advisor to help Indigenous families seek closure on loved ones who went missing in the province's health-care system.

"We hit a wall," she said, speaking of the time she spent digging for clues about missing loved ones in the Innu nation of Pakuashipu on Quebec's North Shore, and the Atikamekw nations of Manawan, Opitciwan and Wemotaci, north of Mont Tremblant. 

"We need more tools, to open medical archives and access religious documents, just to help families find some dignity, to find out what happened to their children."

Pakuashipi Chief Guy Mesténapéo and Viviane Echaquan Niquay of Manawan, were both at the National Assembly in Quebec City for today's announcement and said they're grateful that someone with a connection to their communities was appointed in the new role.

80-year-old Armand, left, and eldest daughter Viviane Echaquan Niquay have been searching for answers into the disappearance of daughter Laureanna for more than 40 years. (Julia Page/CBC)

Mesténapéo spoke about losing two of his sisters at a very young age, after they were brought to a hospital in Blanc-Sablon and never came home.

Echequan Niquay is still searching for her sister, Laureanna, who went missing over 40 years ago after she was flown to a hospital in Joliette from Manawan.

Panasuk says she will use new legislation to pursue the research.

Bill 79, adopted on Thursday, June 3, is a law that allows Indigenous families in Quebec to get information about children who went missing between the 1950s and 1990s after being taken to receive medical care.

Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière has appointed former journalist Anne Panasuk as a special advisor to help implement Bill 79. The new law gives Indigenous families access to religious documents and medical records to find answers about loved ones who went missing in Quebec's health care system. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière said Panasuk is well known and recognized among Quebec's First Nations, particularly for work she did with Radio-Canada's Enquête program in 2015, demanding answers about Atikamekw children who died or went missing after being admitted to hospital.

Panasuk, who is also an anthropologist, will lead and co-ordinate the steering committee for Bill 79 and also be involved in the creation of a support system within the Indigenous Affairs Ministry to accompany families who want access to documents related to missing loved ones.

Lafrenière said he hopes to lean on Panasuk's experience and expertise for other Indigenous portfolios and said he will soon make an announcement on how Quebec will tackle the history of its residential schools.