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Conflict of interest resolved, Phoenix Sinclair inquiry may resume April 8

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The inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair may resume a week earlier than expected, commissioner Ted Hughes said today as a conflict of interest involving lawyers at the inquiry was settled.

The oft-delayed inquiry was put on hold last week over concerns that one firm was representing both social workers and the people running child-welfare agencies. Several times, the testimony of workers conflicted with their bosses – a concern when they’re both being represented by the same lawyer.

Hughes agreed to grant the General Authority separate standing at the inquiry, with its own lawyers taking over its representation from D’Arcy & Deacon. That firm’s lawyer, Kris Saxberg, represented many social workers, supervisors and program managers as well as the General Authority, the Southern and Northern authorities and All Nations Co-ordinated Response agency.

Granting the General Authority separate standing at the inquiry, with more lawyers who need to be brought up to speed, adds to the cost and the length of the inquiry and Hughes said he’s letting the province know where to send the bill if it wants to recoup the cost.

Commission counsel had warned of the potential conflict last year and asked lawyers for all witnesses to make sure they wouldn’t end up in a position that delayed proceedings and added to the cost of the inquiry. Hughes said because that warning was ignored and the inquiry has been delayed because of it, he’s sending a letter to the province’s Attorney General’s office about the funding matter and who’s to blame for the latest delay.

The General Authority’s regular law firm will take over as its counsel at the inquiry, Hughes said, and the inquiry may be ready to resume April 8 – a week earlier than expected.

Phoenix Sinclair who was murdered in 2005 would be 13 next month. She was in and out of care from the time she was born in 2000. The province ordered an inquiry into her death to find out how she fell through Manitoba’s child welfare safety net, and why it took nearly a year for her death to be discovered. Public hearings began in September after several delays, and were further delayed by more legal challenges once the inquiry began.

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