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Foster mom sobs during relentless grilling

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Kim Edwards was put on trial at the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry Thursday as a government lawyer tried to shred her credibility.

She's easy pickings. The child's former foster mother is combative, snippy and incapable of remembering some of the significant traumas in her own life. She will contradict her own testimony, or imply she's agreeing to facts because arguing is futile. She had what she vaguely calls "a lost year," one she has alternately described as an early mid-life crisis or a medical problem.

She loathes CFS and, by association, the people she calls "suits."

Family Services lawyer Gord McKinnon went after Edwards relentlessly. He questioned her inability to recall whether key events took place in 2002 or 2003 and her insistence many CFS documents have been faked or altered. He presented a seven-page timeline of Phoenix's life that Edwards submitted to Manitoba Premier Gary Doer in 2006. Some of the dates were off by a couple of months, others contradicted evidence presented at the inquiry. He questioned and he prodded.

Edwards finally snapped.

"What really matters is the children. Not dates, not times, not splitting hairs," she said, enraged and in tears. That may be the greatest truth told at this inquiry. McKinnon is one of those she considers a suit.

McKinnon tried being folksy, telling Edwards he'd never heard the term "couch-surfing," an expression she used Wednesday to explain she didn't have a home for a certain time.

"Maybe you've never been poor before, maybe you've never been homeless," she snapped. If looks could kill we'd be eulogizing McKinnon today.

She is by no means an ideal witness. It's impossible to follow the details of her story, mostly because she's irritatingly vague. Was she living at a house on Selkirk Avenue with her estranged husband Rohan Stephenson on a certain date or not? One document says she was. He testified she wasn't. Edwards launches into stream-of-consciousness answers, trying to figure out how old her children were when something was happening, musing that if CFS had put half the effort in taking care of children as they are trying to pick holes in her story, the kids in this province would be better off.

McKinnon questioned her about her alcohol use. She snapped back that when people in the suburbs have a party outside and there's alcohol, it's called a barbecue. When the same thing happens in the North End it's a drinking party and the cops stop by and tell you to take it inside.

She would never drink in front of her children, she said, launching into lessons apparently learned from Jamaican parents. "Pickaninnies don't come around adults," she said crisply. "An adult's business is not a pickaninny's business."

There isn't much I can be sure of after listening to Kim Edwards testify for two days. She had her first child at 16. That baby was taken by CFS for a year because the child's father was violent and Edwards couldn't defend herself or the child. Two sons would follow. She married Stephenson and split from him quickly. They moved in and out of a relationship, one that saw them cohabiting at various times. She lived with him and the kids on Selkirk for some time but I couldn't follow the thread of how many places she lived after that, couch-surfing included.

Stephenson was living part of the time (or maybe full time, who can tell) outside the city. At some point, he was living on Selkirk with Phoenix and either two or three of their teenage children. Edwards was either there every day or every two or three days and arriving either in the morning or later. God only knows what really happened, because we don't. What we do know is the purpose of the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry is not to prove Kim Edwards is a flawed, angry person who hates CFS and those in its employ. She'd tell you that herself. Should she have done things better, faster, more honestly? Absolutely. But she's not on trial. She gave one answer plain and clear, when McKinnon asked if she was afraid because Samantha Kematch had taken Phoenix.

"We didn't think she was in danger because nobody knew that woman was a psychopath because we didn't have her CFS file like all these workers who touched this file," she snapped.

And that's why the inquiry is being held, isn't it?

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2012 A9

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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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