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Sinclair inquiry opens with sombre tone

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The evidence to come in the inquiry into Phoenix Sinclair's death will be, at times, dense and devastating, a portrait of how a child could slip from care into a nightmare of abuse.

But on Wednesday, the inquiry opened with simple photos.

There they were, entered into evidence and beamed to the big screen: an image of Phoenix as an infant in foster care, peering mischievously into a goldfish bowl; an image of baby Phoenix clutching a squishy toy.

Five years after those photos were taken, Phoenix Sinclair was dead, the victim of enduring abuse at the hands of her mother and step-father.

Her death was not discovered for months.

"It is important to see these images of Phoenix at the outset of this inquiry," Commission counsel Sherri Walsh said in her opening remarks.

"Consider how it is that in our society, a small child can become so invisible... So invisible as to literally disappear."

About 30 people, as well as two dozen lawyers, observers and witnesses, filled a Convention Centre conference room for the first day of the inquiry, which is expected to last well into next year.

The first phase of the inquiry, which is slated to wrap up near the end of 2012, will follow the chronology of Phoenix's life, hearing evidence about the circumstances surrounding her death.

Phoenix's mother and step-father, both imprisoned for her murder, will not participate in the commission, Walsh said.

But the inquiry will hear from a long list of witnesses, including child welfare workers, Phoenix's family and other experts.

The inquiry's first witness, Winnipeg Child and Family Services chief executive officer Alana Brownlee, took the stand Wednesday to discuss the mandate of Winnipeg CFS and clarify terminology used by child welfare authorities.

In he opening remarks, Walsh said that media coverage of the criminal case against Phoenix's mother and step-father had given rise to many misconceptions about the facts of Phoenix's life.

"Now is the time to inform the public and correct these misconceptions," she said.

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