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Appeal could delay Sinclair inquest: province

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A lengthy appeal could delay a provincial inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair by months or even years, the province warned.

Family Services and Housing Minister Gord Mackintosh said the province has already drafted the terms of an inquiry and shortlisted potential candidates for commissioner.

But he said the province can’t begin a long-promised inquiry until the criminal case is effectively resolved.

Samantha Kematch and Karl McKay, Phoenix’s mother and step-father, were found guilty Friday of first-degree murder in the torture and confinement of the five-year-old.

The two have 30 days to appeal the verdict and are widely expected to do so.

Mackintosh said the Manitoba Court of Appeal usually hears matters quickly. But if it appears an appeal might drag on for years on a fairly narrow point of law, the province will seek legal advice on whether it’s possible to move ahead with an inquiry.

"There are outstanding questions that deserve answers," said Mackintosh. "What is the role of child welfare? How could Phoenix have been dead for nine months without anyone knowing?"

Phoenix’s death on the Fisher River Cree Nation sparked a series of reviews of the province’s child welfare system and the process of handing over cases to Aboriginal-run agencies.

Fisher River Cree Nation Chief David Crate was not available for comment.

Phoenix’s death also spurred a child welfare overhaul that’s about two-thirds complete. It includes nearly 100 new hires, an extra $42 million, a foster family recruitment drive and new standards and accountability mechanisms.

But Kematch and McKay’s criminal trial didn’t delve into the role of child welfare in Phoenix’s death - why months of abuse weren’t detected, why her file was closed and why workers failed to see Phoenix in person.

Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen said Friday’s verdict offers only some small justice in a trial many Manitobans watched with heartbreak. He called on the province to take steps to fix child welfare now and launch the inquiry as soon as possible.

"No one’s saying the system caused her death, but we do need to know whether the system could have prevented it," he said.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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