Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Witness lashes out at lawyer for CFS

Drama at Phoenix inquiry follows dramatic testimony

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After lobbing a profanity-laced tirade at the lawyer for Child and Family Services during a break in the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry, Kim Edwards stormed out of the Winnipeg Convention Centre Monday afternoon.

One of three sheriff's officers assigned to provide security at the inquiry got between Edwards -- who cared for little Phoenix before she was killed and became the subject of a provincial inquiry -- and CFS lawyer Kris Saxberg.

An irate Edwards then left the building.

Late last week, the woman, who has standing at the inquiry, was grilled on the witness stand by Saxberg and Manitoba government lawyer Gord McKinnon over her past involvement with CFS as a teen mom.

But that wasn't why she was upset on Monday.

Edwards was angry because an inquiry lawyer had accused her of threatening him, she said after the inquiry wrapped up for the day. Jeff Gindin, the lawyer for the petite woman, advised her not to comment -- but she did anyway.

Saxberg said he was aware of the allegation but denied reporting that Edwards had threatened him. He declined further comment.

The drama in the hallway followed some dramatic testimony inside the hearing room Monday.

The CFS intake worker who closed the file on Phoenix in July 2004 after the girl was returned to her biological mother broke down in tears when she recalled learning about Phoenix's death. The five-year-old girl was killed in 2005 by her mother, Samantha Kematch, and the woman's boyfriend, Karl "Wes" McKay. Her death wasn't discovered and reported in the media until March 2006.

"I felt very badly," recalled Tracy Forbes, adding she heard about Phoenix's death through news reports and recalled her connection to the case.

Commission counsel Derek Olson asked Forbes if anyone from CFS discussed her involvement with the case or offered her support at the time.

"No," said Forbes, her voice breaking. A committee was set up to respond to workers who suffered a "crisis-oriented event," she said, after wiping away tears.

"I didn't get a call from anyone on that committee ... until several months after the fact," she said. "At that point, I declined."

The intake worker said at the time she had Phoenix's file she was working through lunches, evenings and weekends to stay caught up, and might have spent more time on the girl's file if she hadn't been so busy.

Forbes said she may have transferred the file instead of closing it, but knew family services was too busy to monitor a case where there was no "imminent" danger.

Forbes testified that at that time she handled the Phoenix file, her six-person intake unit was missing half of its workers, leaving her and two others to do twice as much work.

That recollection was challenged by the lawyer for the Manitoba government. Sacha Paul told her the record indicates during the period she handled the file from May to July 2004, there were closer to six intake workers than three.

"If that's what it says, I would accept that," said Forbes.

When she found time to knock on the door where Phoenix lived with her mother, Forbes said a man answered and said they weren't home. The man was identified only as "Wes" in her notes from the visit. Forbes said she didn't get his last name. If she had, she could've checked CFS's electronic records and learned that McKay had a long and violent track record with Winnipeg CFS.

After learning of Phoenix's death, Forbes said she started checking the past involvement with CFS of people who had looked after Phoenix. Had she learned of McKay's criminal record and domestic violence toward past partners, she still may have left Phoenix with her mom and closed the file, she said.

There was no record of him beating a child and domestic abuse didn't automatically require the intake unit to transfer a file to family services for followup, said Forbes.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2012 A6


Updated on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 9:24 AM CST: replaces photo

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