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Missing papers 'distressing'

Minister vows inquiry will improve system

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Manitoba's family services minister says she finds it "extremely distressing" that notes by Child and Family Services supervisors involved in Phoenix Sinclair's care have vanished.

Under opposition questioning in the legislature Monday, Jennifer Howard said she wishes all case documentation was available to the inquiry charged with tracing the events that led to Phoenix's murder in 2005.

"I understand that there has been an extensive search for that documentation... many times by many people involved in the system," Howard said.

"I find the fact that there is missing documentation extremely distressing," she said.

Howard called the commission of inquiry, led by former judge Ted Hughes, "an unprecedented look" at Manitoba's child welfare system.

"The inquiry is going to teach us much about how we can improve the system. And we'll look forward to those recommendations... " she said in the legislature.

The commission has heard the notes of four supervisors have disappeared. In one case, a supervisor admitted he took his notes home with him when he left CFS. He destroyed the notes in 2010, four years after the province announced the inquiry.

During question period on Monday, the Conservative Opposition accused Howard and the government of not doing enough to protect the documents relating to the Phoenix Sinclair case.

"She's missed an opportunity to make sure that this inquiry is actually complete. We're seeing a partial inquiry," family services critic Leanne Rowat said afterwards.

Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard said it's his understanding from talking to officials in Child and Family Services there are careful procedures for signing out records. "If that were the case, then why were there aberrations?" he said Monday.

He asked Howard to provide MLAs with a copy of the government's procedures for handling CFS documents. The minister said she would.

In an interview, Howard said she "would have become aware" of the missing notes "probably in the last two or three months." Her department has been working closely with the commission of inquiry to provide it with information, she said.

She said she could not say whether any of the missing notes were made available to past reviews into the Phoenix Sinclair case.

She noted the inquiry has yet to hear from the people connected with these reviews, and she did not want to interfere in that process.

"From my recollection of reading many of those reviews, there were, of course, concerns of documentation," Howard said.

The minister said "there are very clear policies in place" on the storage of CFS records due to their confidential nature.

She said she has no evidence that "there's been anything deliberate that has happened here" to keep the documents from the inquiry.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 4, 2012 A3

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