Ottawa now a 'full participant' in Innu foster care inquiry

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Ottawa now a 'full participant' in Innu foster care inquiry

Ottawa now a 'full participant' in Innu foster care inquiry

After a series of delays caused by intergovernmental disputes, the Grand Chief of the Innu Nation in Labrador says a foster care inquiry is back on track now that the federal government has agreed to act as a "full participant" in the process. 

"I think it's important that all three governments are involved in the inquiry because it's a broken system," Grand Chief Gregory Rich said.

The inquiry, which was announced in July 2017, was originally slated to begin in September of the same year.

The terms of reference have yet to be finalized, but the broad goal is to investigate the reasons why so many Innu children end up in foster care, and what happens to them while they're away from their homes.

"The families need to be heard," Rich said. "Their stories need to be heard."

Rich described the inquiry's dynamic as a "three-party approach" including Innu Nation, the province, and Ottawa.

A statement from the office of Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott describes the federal government as "a full participant of the inquiry under the provincial legislation."

It is, according to Rich, a stronger commitment than what the federal government originally pledged in November 2017.

Back then, Philpott promised money and other supports, in a move Rich said didn't go far enough.

The Grand Chief said the families of foster children are frustrated and disappointed it's taking so long to start the inquiry, but he called the latest developments "very positive."

"Our officials remain in regular contact in order to provide the support needed to move this important work forward," the statement from Philpott's office said.

No timeline

The three governments are compiling the inquiry's terms of reference and looking for a commissioner, but there's no firm timeline on when it will get started.

The provincial government is already engaged in another public inquiry, which concerns the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

What's more, the governing provincial Liberals have also promised inquiries into search and rescue and a controversial paving contract. It's not clear when any of the three pending probes will take place.

In February 2017, Justice Minister Andrew Parsons told CBC he didn't think it was realistic to hold more than one public inquiry at a time.

"Just due to the resources that each needs, you can only, I think, realistically hold one at a time. I don't think you can have them concurrently," he said.

The final report from the Muskrat Falls inquiry is due Dec. 31, 2019.

In an emailed statement from the provincial Labrador Affairs Secretariat a spokesperson wrote, "we welcome word that the federal government is participating" and "after the final terms of the federal participation are worked out, the stage will be set for the inquiry to begin."

The spokesperson did not offer any dates or timelines.

'It's not working'

Rich stressed that the foster care investigation should be the province's priority, as children continue to be removed from Natuashish and Sheshatshiu while the details are hashed out.

"Kids were still being removed in both communities and that's hard for the families," he said.

"It's not working. It's creating difficulties when they return to the communities."