December 9, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Samantha Kematch kept having babies even as she tortured her daughter, Phoenix Sinclair, to death.
The now-convicted murderer gave birth in November 2004 and again in December 2005. The inquiry into Phoenix's death has yet to hear about these two children, although their existence is disclosed in a document entered into evidence at the inquiry.
Phoenix died in June 2005 after repeated beatings left her with broken bones from her pelvis to her head. She was caged and kept in a cold, dark basement. But Kematch and Karl McKay, now both imprisoned for first-degree murder, kept reproducing even as they violated the five-year-old.
McKay is the father of the two children. He also had two sons who lived with him and Kematch while Phoenix was being abused. Lawyer Sherri Walsh said Friday the commission has respected the privacy of the McKay-Kematch children and their caregivers. They've allowed the same privacy to Kematch's first son, born when she was 16.
Kematch's first child was seized at birth and made a permanent ward of CFS. Phoenix was born next, in April 2000, and taken from Kematch and Steve Sinclair because they were obviously unprepared and ill-equipped to take care of her. After much assessment, she went back to her mom and dad a few months later.
We now know both Sinclair and Kematch were products of the child welfare system and scarred because of it. He was a hard-core alcoholic as a teen. She was likely cognitively delayed, promiscuous, ran with gangs, was involved in criminal activity and she denied her first two pregnancies until the babies arrived.
But they got Phoenix back, and welcomed baby Echo in 2001. She died of pneumonia. The couple separated amid accusations of infidelity, drug use, gang involvement and allegations Kematch was working as a prostitute. Their relationship was so fractious police had to be called to the infant's viewing.
Sinclair launched into a downward spiral of binge drinking and drug use after the infant's death. He attempted suicide. Still, he had sole care of Phoenix. It turns out he wasn't raising her at all.
In June 2003, police were called to Sinclair's Magnus Avenue house. A male caller reported a drinking party. Over the course of the weekend, officers and after-hours CFS workers made several visits to Sinclair's place. On one occasion, he was passed out. On another, he was high.
Sinclair claimed a family member was looking after Phoenix. She was also partying there. There was no food in the house. Phoenix was chubby, potty-trained and a good eater when she was rescued, with little credit due her father and none to her mother.
The child languished without CFS attention for ages, despite early indications her parents were a mess. Records show that from July 2001 until June 2003, no one from CFS saw Phoenix.
Phoenix was taken to the Children's Hospital emergency department in February 2003 by a man who said he was her godfather. She had an object stuck in her nose. Records indicate the hospital wanted the situation to be assessed further "given the concerns related to physical and medical neglect and inadequate care of the child."
That sounds important to a layperson, but CFS had different standards. Roberta Dick took the call from the HSC child-protection unit expressing concern about the child's care. Not only had her health been neglected, the godfather suspected Sinclair would not give the toddler her antibiotics. Dick made a judgment call and checked a box saying the child should be seen within five days. She knew intake workers had high caseloads and wanted to give them a little leeway, she said.
Sinclair was parenting alone, another man took his neglected daughter to hospital and indicated she wouldn't get the follow-up care she needed. That would seem to require quick action, but the overburdened world of social workers didn't make her a priority.
Intake worker Laura Forrest visited the home several times in 2003: March 31, April 17, May 1, and May 9. Sinclair avoided her. She never saw Phoenix.
The file was considered lower risk, Forrest testified, and she had a high caseload. She did everything by the book. Phoenix was a "lower risk" child being raised by persons unknown after being handed to her father, a man whose own CFS file said he was addicted to alcohol at 18. Did the child welfare system really believe he would change after he aged out of care?
And where was Kematch? We don't know yet. She resurfaced after Phoenix was taken back into care and said she wanted to be a mom again.
She'd been worried about Sinclair's drinking and drug use, she claimed. A file submitted at the inquiry said Kematch had a history of leaving her children and resurfacing briefly in times of crisis. Well, she did resurface and she got her daughter back.
And then she had two more babies, conceiving and carrying them even as she and McKay tortured Phoenix, hid her body and convinced CFS workers everything was fine.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 24, 2012 A3