The sobbing ex-partner of Karl Wesley McKay recalled him threatening her with a machete and trying to push her and their six-month-old son down a flight of stairs -- but she’d never seen him physically abuse their two sons, the inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair heard today.
The two men testifying at the inquiry this afternoon were 12 and 14 when they were sent to stay with their dad in 2005, the year Phoenix was tortured and murdered. McKay and Phoenix’s mother, Samantha Kematch, were convicted of first-degree murder.
They and their mother cannot be identified under a publication ban granted by Commissioner Ted Hughes after the three witnesses complained that they were harassed after testifying at the murder trial of McKay in 2008. They are giving their testimony remotely through a video link that is audible to everyone in the hearing room but visible only to the inquiry commissioner.
The boys are grown men now working and going to school and their colleagues don’t know about their connection to McKay, the inquiry has heard.
Their mother, now 42, testified this morning that the younger boy, who was getting into trouble in Winnipeg, was sent to live with his father in Fisher River First Nation in April 2005. The intent was to get the then-12-year-old away from gangs and bad influences in the city.
McKay had moved to the reserve from Winnipeg that spring with Kematch, their newborn baby and Kematch’s daughter Phoenix, who had turned five that April. McKay’s older son joined them on school breaks and summer vacation, she said.
Their mother testified the boys told her on a visit home to Winnipeg that Phoenix was shot at with a pellet gun, choked unconscious and beaten by McKay and Kematch. The mother said she notified a child-welfare agency about her concern for Phoenix -- and for her sons in McKay’s care -- but could not remember which agency she called or when and how much detail she provided.
She said she remembers calling 411 for the number of Fisher River CFS and being told they were "short staffed" and that somebody would get back to her. "Nobody ever got back to me," she said.
On July 12, 2005 a probation officer notified Intertribal Child and Family Services that McKay’s adolescent sons had been left with an inappropriate caregiver while McKay, a trucker, and Kematch were on the road, the woman said. Phoenix, she was told, had gone to live with her biological father. McKay called her that day when Intertribal CFS workers visited his home, she said.
The woman recalled receiving a call from McKay on the day child-welfare workers returned their sons to her in Winnipeg.
"He was just swearing at me and threatening me that nothing was going to be done because his cousin worked there," she said.
The inquiry heard last week from McKay’s cousin, Interlake Tribal CFS supervisor Madeline Bird, who said she had no knowledge of any child-welfare complaints against McKay except for the call on July 12, 2005, when they arranged to send his sons home to their mother in Winnipeg.
Today, after dredging up painful memories, then being pressed for specific dates and people spoken to, McKay’s ex-partner hit a breaking point when the lawyer representing the provincial government accidentally mentioned the names of McKay’s sons, whose identities are protected by a publication ban.
"You’ve named them twice," their mother, who is also protected by the ban, scolded lawyer Gord McKinnon. "I’m done."
She declined to testify further.
Commissioner Ted Hughes called for a break, asking the lawyer representing the woman and her sons to speak to her about returning to testify. The proceedings continued 20 minutes later and she completed her testimony.