APTN National News
The Conservative MPs on the Indigenous Affairs committee want to call officials with the Privy Council Office (PCO) to answer questions on their role providing technical and administrative support to the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls.
The Conservative MPs on the committee plan to table a motion next week calling for PCO officials to testify.
Conservative MP Arnold Viersen said last week’s testimony from inquiry commissioners required further clarification from PCO officials.
“The commissioners indicated frustrations in the technical functions of the commission,” said Viersen, who is a member of the committee. “I hope we can get an understanding of how PCO manages these national commissions.”
The motion to call PCO officials before the committee is likely to be supported by the lone NDP MP member on the committee, Romeo Saganash.
The Liberals hold the majority of votes on the committee which was on the road this week gathering testimony on modern treaties and specific claims. The committee was in Belleville, Ont., on Friday and meets against on Tuesday.
APTN contacted the office of MP Yvon Jones, parliamentary secretary for Crown-Indigenous relations, but she was not available for comment.
APTN also contacted the office of MP Don Rusnack, parliamentary secretary for Indigenous services, but he could not be reached for comment.
Jones and Rusnack sit on the committee as non-voting members, but set the tone on the government’s side of the committee table.
The four inquiry commissioners— Chief Commissioner Marion Buller, Michele Audette, Qajaq Robinson and Brian Eyolfson – appeared before the committee last week amid widespread concern internal disorganization and tensions threaten to comprise the work inquiry. The inquiry has faced a number of high profile resignations, including that of commissioner Marilyn Poitras.
The commissioners presented a picture of an inquiry that is restricted by federal government structures while trying to confront a deeply complex and sensitive subject with roots stretching back hundreds of years.
The inquiry, which held hearings in Smithers, B.C., this week, depends on the support of a secretariat within the PCO, which is essentially the prime minister’s department and the central nervous system of the federal bureaucracy.
The PCO also charges the inquiry for work it has done. The PCO wouldn’t reveal how much is has billed the inquiry to date, but the figure is expected to be at least $2 million.
“The Privy Council Office’s (PCO) mandate is to provide commissions of inquiry with financial and administrative support,” said PCO spokesperson Stephan Shank. “All of the commission’s expenses, including support at PCO, will appear under the PCO’s accounts, which will be tabled in the fall.”
Shank said the PCO assigned officials beginning in September 2016 to work full-time at the inquiry. Shank said additional staff are also providing support on finance, procurement and human resources to the inquiry as part of their regular work load.
Under questioning, Audette said the inquiry still does not have all its computers on the same network and that its IT system is a patchwork from three different departments.
The federal Indigenous Affairs department — which is being split into two entities — is currently providing the inquiry with IT support.
Audette said in an interview with APTN that inquiry staff and commissioners have at times resorted to using their own phones and computers to do the work of the inquiry.
It’s unclear how federal privacy and access to information laws apply to the work of the inquiry conducted on private devices.