The oft-delayed Phoenix Sinclair inquiry has been put on hold again.
Public hearings into the 2005 death of the little girl who fell through Manitoba’s child-welfare safety net have been postponed until April 15 because of a legal conflict of interest. Commissioner Ted Hughes was concerned that the lawyer representing several social workers, supervisors, program managers as well as head honchos at child-welfare agencies was in a position of conflict.
Kris Saxberg represents workers who closed the file without seeing Phoenix and said they didn’t break any rules. He also represents their boss who said they should’ve known better.
The inquiry doesn’t have the power to recommend criminal charges but its findings could adversely affect the reputations of people testifying at the hearings.
Hughes asked the Law Society of Manitoba for an opinion. The law society said Saxberg representing multiple parties raises concerns about conflicting interests and that his duty of loyalty to his clients is compromised.
Saxberg responded with a letter to the commission saying the law society didn’t contact him for information and made its opinion without having all the facts and transcripts. Saxberg said he doesn’t agree there is a conflict but doesn’t want there to be an appearance of one. New counsel from a different firm can be arranged for some of the clients, he said.
New lawyers would have be brought up to speed and hearings wouldn’t likely resume until April 15, Hughes said. He will decide on the matter Tuesday.
The public hearing began in September but was delayed by another legal battle until November. After a break for Christmas and again in February, it was supposed to resume March 4. An application for a publication ban that was challenged held it up for another week.
Today, the conflict-of-interest issue is another setback.
Commission counsel Sherri Walsh said the hearings, which were supposed to wrap up at the end of May, will now conclude in July. Instead of issuing his final report at the end of September, the commissioner may not have it ready until December.