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No report on Phoenix inquiry until February

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A long-awaited report into how Manitoba social services failed five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair is unlikely to be released until at least February.

The province said Thursday it received a "rough draft" of the document -- it totals 1,000 pages and will likely be bound into three volumes -- on Dec. 16.

A government official, who asked not to be quoted by name, said the report requires formatting and design work. She said final proofreading and fact-checking are also being carried out.

The civil servant said the government is still hoping to meet a (previously undisclosed) production schedule that would see the report printed by Jan. 31. She added the job could take a few extra days. "It depends on when we get the final signed proof from the commission," the civil servant said.

A cabinet spokeswoman said Thursday it's also possible the report may not be released immediately -- even after it's printed -- as the government continues to analyze the report. She strenuously denied the report's release was being delayed for political reasons.

Earlier in the day, a government official told The Canadian Press the province is prevented by law from releasing the report in the midst of two provincial byelections. The contests in Morris and Arthur-Virden are set for Jan. 28.

That prompted criticism the government was using the byelections as an excuse to stall any criticism arising from the report.

The province later clarified other factors were also at play in delaying the report's release.

For almost two years, a public inquiry examined the horrific death of Phoenix Sinclair, who bounced in and out of foster care before she was murdered in 2005. Commissioner Ted Hughes was tasked with determining why the little girl slipped through the cracks and how her death went undiscovered for months.

Commission counsel Sherri Walsh said in a statement Thursday a commission editor is "engaged with the communications staff of the government in proofreading" the report but Hughes "has had no contact with the report" since it was filed Dec. 16.

She said "no changes to his report as delivered on that date will be made other than with respect to punctuation and like matters that fall within the editor's area of expertise."

Progressive Conservative family services critic Ian Wishart said the report should be released without delay. He said proposed improvements in child safety trumps election concerns.

"Perhaps they're not liking the answers they're seeing (in the report)," Wishart said of the government.

Lawyer Jeff Gindin, who represented Phoenix's father and foster mother at the inquiry, disputed the idea election laws prevented the government from releasing the inquiry report, citing exemptions allowed in the legislation. "It seems to be a very technical interpretation (of the Election Financing Act," he said.

Gindin said the province has invited censure by citing the act as a factor in the timing of the report's release. "If you just come out and say, 'It's a lengthy report and we need more time,' they'd be open to less criticism."


-- with files from The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2014 A4

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