Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Father bears blame; failed girl, too

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Steve Sinclair testified at the inquiry into the death of his daughter Wednesday and was handled so tenderly I expected someone to offer him a foot massage.

Sinclair is considered a victim here, not held responsible for any of the horrors inflicted on Phoenix during her short, miserable life. He suffered terrible losses when daughter, Echo, died in infancy and Phoenix was slain. No one disputes that.

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He didn't murder his little girl. Samantha Kematch and Karl McKay were responsible for that crime.

But let's talk about the elephant in the room: Sinclair repeatedly ignored his duties to his daughter. He put her in harm's way and, once Kematch belatedly took and kept their daughter in 2004, he did nothing to retrieve her.

The inquiry heard Sinclair was a drunk and when he knew he was going on a bender, he'd hand the child off to someone else. Commission counsel Sherri Walsh asked him gently if he and Kematch had issues with substance abuse.

"Well, we were young," he said, as though all young parents get so sloshed they are incapable of caring for their children.

Sinclair testified Wednesday he attended two sets of parenting courses. The first was as a support to his sister. The second, he and Kematch were mandated to attend by Child and Family Services. He said they learned about changing diapers, checking for rashes and taking care of a baby's needs.

Presumably none of those parenting classes taught him that when a single dad is thinking about getting pissed as a newt, he should reconsider.

Sinclair is articulate and clearly bright. CFS records paint him as a good father when he was taking care of his children. The house was clean, he played with his daughter and she was hitting her developmental milestones. He spoke tenderly about the little girl. He is very fond of his nieces and nephews.

"So, you like kids?" Walsh asked.

"Of course," Sinclair said. "They're the next generation."

He just wasn't up to being a full-time parent to his own next generation.

Sinclair arranged for Phoenix to be cared for by Kim Edwards and her partner when he wasn't around. Sometimes, a family member helped out. He always knew where she was, he said, because he either dropped her off or someone picked her up.

"Everybody wanted a piece of her," he said with a smile.

In November 2003, Kematch decided she wanted to be a mother again. Sinclair packed up Phoenix's belongings and gave her to Kematch. The arrangement lasted until January 2004 when he, Kim Edwards and another friend retrieved the girl after hearing Kematch was neglecting the child.

Previous testimony indicated Sinclair thought Kematch had little patience with Phoenix and disciplined her inappropriately. So when Kematch showed up at the house of Kim Edwards and her partner in April 2004, saying she wanted to take her daughter for the afternoon, the caregivers called Steve for permission. He said yes.

A couple of days passed before Sinclair learned Phoenix hadn't been taken back and then a couple more days before he got worried and called CFS. Walsh asked if he was concerned.

"Like I said, she was with her mother. Her mother should have known not to hurt her."

Well, yes, and her father should have known a child deserves a parent who takes care of his drinking problem and looks after his child full-time.

Both Sinclair and Kematch were products of the child-welfare system. He is clearly still damaged by his years in care. It was telling how he spoke of Stan Williams, the final CFS worker involved with the family's case. "He helped me," Sinclair said. "He didn't interfere in any way."

It would have been better if Williams had, if anyone in the child-welfare system had connected the dots that led from the birth of Phoenix to young, unprepared parents to her ultimate disappearance. But they didn't, failing the child at every turn.

Sinclair failed her, too. After Kematch took his precious child, he did a cursory look around a couple of schools she might have attended and then, from all appearances, stopped searching. He says he walked past the apartment block where Kematch was living with their daughter but didn't go in. His sister had telephone contact with Kematch. He didn't call to check in with Phoenix. He didn't know that Kematch, her new partner and Phoenix had left the city. He moved around the North End and eventually to Ontario with a new girlfriend.

Sinclair's entire life sounds tragic. Let's not forget his daughter's was worse.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2012 A3

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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