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This article was published 9/1/2013 (1354 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For her last Christmas, Phoenix Sinclair's mother taught her to say degrading obscenities, locked her in a bedroom and took away her presents.
That revelation was among the heart-breaking and disturbing testimony heard Wednesday at the inquiry into the death of the five-year-old girl.
Former friends of Samantha Kematch said they were so worried about Phoenix in early 2005, they contacted Winnipeg Child and Family Services. Later that year, Phoenix was murdered by Kematch and her boyfriend, Wes McKay, but her death wasn't discovered until 2006.
An inquiry into her death and how she slipped through Manitoba's child-protection safety net was ordered by the province in 2011 and began in September.
The two witnesses who testified Wednesday can't be identified. Like all sources of referral at the inquiry, their identities and gender are not being made public.
They testified about Kematch degrading Phoenix and locking her in a bedroom when she went out. One feared McKay was sexually abusing his stepchild, Phoenix, who was left alone with him too often and exhibited inappropriate behaviour.
One, referred to as Source of Referral No. 6, recalled hearing disturbing things over the phone.
"Sam was giving Phoenix a bath. She said something degrading. She said, 'If you wouldn't play with yourself, you wouldn't stink so much.' I just couldn't believe it -- that she was saying that."
Another time, the witness was at the apartment Kematch shared with McKay, their newborn and Phoenix when there were sounds coming from the only bedroom.
"I heard some whimpering. It sounded like a sick child... It was moaning. If I could describe it, it was like a child who is sick with the flu. I was kind of surprised. She didn't say that Phoenix was there."
Kematch often said Phoenix was away with McKay, who was a trucker, or with the child's aunt, the witnesses said.
Commission counsel Sherri Walsh asked the witness what Kematch did when they heard the moaning.
"She just looked at me and proceeded to the bedroom and then she came out a few seconds later... Then I didn't hear any more moaning or anything."
The witness said Kematch had locked the bedroom door earlier when they went to the corner store with the baby Kematch had with McKay in November 2004.
The other witness testified there were concerns about Phoenix touching herself inappropriately, not being toilet-trained and spending so much time alone with McKay, who was not her father.
"I thought maybe Wes was abusing Sam and Phoenix," said Source of Referral No. 5, who knew Kematch from a group home.
The first time the witness saw Phoenix with Kematch, the mother became furious because Phoenix got her white outfit dirty playing outside. The only other time the witness saw Phoenix with her mom was when they were walking to the bus stop together and Kematch had Phoenix parroting obscenities.
"Sam was getting Phoenix to say things, to mimic her," the witness said before describing the obscenities.
The witness never saw Kematch hit the preschooler but heard all about her alleged "bad" behaviour from Phoenix's mother. "(She said) she was bad all the time, she wasn't listening, how she would touch herself, she didn't smell right, she would pee the bed." During Phoenix's last Christmas alive, Kematch gave away the little girl's presents.
"She said Phoenix was too bad and she didn't deserve them."
The witness said Kematch was scared of McKay and talked about leaving him. Once, Kematch spent the money he left for groceries on crack cocaine and had to borrow food so McKay wouldn't find out.
"She seemed scared of him and the fact that Phoenix was touching herself and going to the bathroom (in bed) didn't seem right."
The two witnesses got together and reported their concerns anonymously to CFS in early 2005, they said. Kematch was a friend, and one witness admitted to being afraid of her. They learned from Kematch child-welfare workers did go to the home.
"I felt kind of relieved," said Source of Referral No. 6. "At least they were involved. If anything was going on, they'd find out and do something."
CFS didn't notice any problems, however. Kematch believed a neighbour had called CFS on her, the witnesses testified, and she was planning to get away from child welfare.
Phoenix's body was found the following spring buried at the Fisher River First Nation dump.