Steve Sinclair just wanted a regular family like the ones on television. What the young dad ended up with was sadness no screenwriter could imagine.
The father of Phoenix Sinclair addressed the inquiry examining her 2005 slaying for the first time Wednesday. Sinclair, 32, grew up in a dysfunctional home with his mom and six siblings. Child welfare got involved in his life because of abuse, neglect and alcoholism.
"Did you have any parenting role models growing up?" commission counsel Sherri Walsh asked him.
"Television," Sinclair said. "I wanted a family."
Instead, he was in and out of care several times and frequently switched schools as a result.
"It was difficult," he testifed.
Home was still better than foster care, he said, adding he put more faith in family and his mother than the child welfare authorities.
He loved his mom then and now. "Still do," he told the inquiry.
The inquiry was called in 2011 to examine how child welfare authorities failed Phoenix. Social workers have testified about their involvement and Wednesday was Sinclair's turn to offer his perspective. Composed and articulate, he recalled little contact with the child welfare workers involved in his life after the April 23, 2000, birth of Phoenix, whom he named.
He didn't remember Delores Chief-Abigosis -- the CFS worker who testified she was a full-time university student while assigned to the case as a full-time CFS employee.
He said there was no way the in-home support worker Marie Belanger (now Pickering) visited his home 40 times over several months, as she testified earlier. She was supposed to teach Sinclair and Phoenix's mother, Samantha Kematch, parenting skills for three hours twice a week after Phoenix was born.
He recalled her there just a few times. "Forty times?!" Sinclair exclaimed. "You'd figure someone would remember that amount of visits."
Especially someone like him who wanted to avoid contact with CFS. His negative experiences with child welfare growing up drove him to keep Phoenix with him and CFS at bay, he said.
Sinclair bristled when reminded of the time CFS after-hours worker Kim Hanson apprehended three-year-old Phoenix from a party at his place in June 2003. Hanson testified earlier that Phoenix called her, and most of the women she encountered, "Mom." Walsh asked Sinclair if he'd ever heard Phoenix call women "Mom."
"Never," Sinclair said. "She knew who her mom was."
Kematch disappeared from Phoenix's life in June 2001 when the girl was 14 months old. Sinclair was left to care for Phoenix and their second child, Echo, born in April 2001. Echo died months later of an acute respiratory infection.
Kematch didn't reappear in Phoenix's life until November 2003, after CFS returned the child to Sinclair's care.
Sinclair told social workers earlier that Kematch wasn't stable and had administered harsh discipline. But when Kematch went to Sinclair's place to get Phoenix, he didn't try to stop her or alert CFS. "I gave her her clothes and all her stuff," he said.
"You were OK with that?" Walsh asked.
"Yes, of course, it was her mother," he said.
When Sinclair heard Kematch was partying and not caring for Phoenix, he went to get her back in January 2004. Phoenix was left at the home of Kim Edwards and Rohan Stephenson, friends of Sinclair's whom CFS had approved as a place of safety for the child.
In April 2004, Kematch went there to take Phoenix for a visit. Stephenson contacted Sinclair, who said it was OK. Sinclair said he didn't know Kematch also had legal guardianship of his daughter. When she wasn't returned after a couple of days, Sinclair said he called CFS to try to discover her whereabouts -- not to report his concern about Phoenix's safety and well-being.
"I ran it over in my mind," Sinclair said. "She was with her mother. Why not have her mother parent her? Isn't that what mothers do?"
He never saw Phoenix again. Kematch and her partner, Karl McKay, were convicted of first-degree murder.