I've had a long and somewhat tumultuous relationship with Kim Edwards, one that began in our mutual desire to have the true story of Phoenix Sinclair told. The low point in my dealings with Phoenix's former foster mother came in 2011, when I wrote a column that revealed the child lay in a grave unmarked except for a small, numbered, concrete disk.
Readers responded, as readers do, quickly and compassionately. Teddy bears, flowers and balloons were dropped off at the cemetery. A local company offered a free headstone.
Edwards shot me this email: "what the hell is wrong with you !lady i hoper spomeone hurts you as you have hurt us you stiupid bitch thatnks for creating the shrine we did not want ! WHAT BUSINESS IT IT OF YOURS"
It was signed "peace to you," which is considerably more polite than my usual hate mail. She ordered the gravesite tributes removed. And that was that for us, until the inquiry into the little girl's death began. Edwards has attended faithfully, bearing witness to the testimony of others and waiting for a chance to give her version of truth.
What the inquiry has revealed so far is there are two child-welfare systems in this province. The first exists in officialdom, with social workers and supervisors paid to look after children in distress with supposed speed and efficiency. The second is informal and shadowy, guided by the unwritten rule that children must be protected from CFS interference at all cost.
Edwards belongs to the second camp. As she testified Wednesday at the inquiry, her contempt for CFS filled the room like a noxious gas. She said she only had contact with CFS twice in the two years Phoenix lived with her full time. One was a home visit from CFS worker Stan Williams, the second essentially a drive-by when Williams returned the child.
There is all sorts of CFS documentation that says workers called her, visited the home, sent her letters. She denied it all. The only social worker I met with was Stan Williams, she said repeatedly, and I met with him twice.
Her animosity toward the official child-welfare system resurfaced as she recalled being told by Williams she might not keep Phoenix because her home wasn't "culturally appropriate." That meant, in CFS-speak, she was not aboriginal and Phoenix was.
It's plain Edwards loved the little girl desperately, cared for her like a mother and helped provide the only home the child ever knew. You can't question her dedication to Phoenix and her unflagging, sometimes misplaced faith in Steve Sinclair, the girl's father. Edwards is the one who remembers first steps and words, talks with pride of how early Phoenix spoke in sentence fragments and recalls what a trouper the toddler was. There was nothing she wouldn't have done for Phoenix.
Edwards had her own experiences with CFS. When she was 17, she gave birth to her first child. That little girl was apprehended for a year because, Edwards said, she was being abused by her partner. She bitterly said CFS took her baby but left her in danger. She testified the foster mother bent the rules and let Edwards visit her newborn more often than the mandated one hour a week. The worker was fired for doing so, she said. A file on her second child was opened and closed in a single day because there had been a report of violence committed by the same ex-partner.
When Edwards and former husband Rohan Stephenson applied to become a CFS "place of safety" in July 2003, Edwards did not disclose her previous CFS involvement.
"It wasn't because I was trying to hide it," she testified. "I forgot about that incident with (her daughter)."
It's a big thing to forget, but standard procedure, as Stephenson testified, was to tell CFS nothing. Lying is fair game if you get to keep the child. And they managed, even as she and Stephenson separated and she "couch surfed" while he remained in the family house with Phoenix and the rest of their children. They provided a semblance of family life to a girl whose parents either wouldn't or couldn't.
Kim Edwards can be profane, threatening and sometimes seem irrational. But she loved Phoenix without reservation. That's a flash of brightness for this dreary inquiry.