Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lawyer questions credibility of woman who took in Phoenix

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FOR years, the woman Phoenix Sinclair called "Nana Mom" waited for a public inquiry to shine light on what happened to the five-year-old killed by her mother and her mother's boyfriend in 2005.

On Wednesday, the spotlight turned on her, Kim Edwards, when her credibility and past involvement with child welfare were called into question.

"Kim Edwards isn't on trial," her lawyer, Jeff Gindin, told inquiry commissioner Ted Hughes. Gindin was objecting to a motion that Edwards' sealed Winnipeg Child and Family Services file from 1988, when she was a 17-year-old mom, be presented at the inquiry. He also objected to having her social assistance records subpoenaed to determine where she was living when she said she cared for Phoenix.

The request by Kris Saxberg, the lawyer representing several child-welfare agencies, was made after Edwards contradicted evidence given last week by her ex-husband, Rohan Stephenson.

He told the inquiry he and Edwards broke up in December 2002 and she moved out of their Selkirk Avenue home, leaving him to care for their children and Phoenix. He said he and Edwards lied to CFS about living together so Phoenix wouldn't be taken from the home and placed with strangers.

Edwards testified Wednesday they didn't break up until a year later, and Stephenson moved out, not her. She said she collected welfare for herself and her two children and lived at the Selkirk address. She said Stephenson, who was working as a full-time health-care aide at TenTen Sinclair Housing in Winnipeg, lived in McMunn, Man., an hour east of the city, and often stayed with them on Selkirk. Together they applied to CFS to become a recognized place of safety for Phoenix on July 31, 2003.

"The issue is who was living where and whether the place of safety applicants were telling the truth," Saxberg told Hughes. "It goes to (Edwards') credibility and further than that... it's going to tell us who was looking after Phoenix when she was residing at the home when she was under the care of CFS."

Hughes said he won't allow further delays of the inquiry unless it's of "critical importance." He reserved his decision on Edwards' files until this morning.

Edwards testified Wednesday that she looked after Phoenix regularly, starting when the girl was just a few months old in September 2000. Weekend visits soon turned into weeklong stays when Phoenix's mother, Samantha Kematch, became pregnant again. Edwards said Phoenix's father, Steve Sinclair, told her Kematch was "hormonal."

By the time Phoenix's sister Echo was born, Edwards said, Phoenix had become a part of her family.

When Kematch left Sinclair and her kids in June 2001 and Echo died in July 2001 from a respiratory infection, Sinclair was in "despair," Edwards said.

"Outside influences" were encouraging Sinclair to drown his sorrows by drinking. Edwards said Sinclair didn't leave Phoenix with her to avoid responsibility and go drinking, but because he thought Phoenix would thrive in the family atmosphere of her home.

"He said 'I like what you got here'... My family was great."

She described Phoenix as "awesome," and Sinclair's role as a father as "awesome" when he was with her.

Just one CFS social worker visited their home, Edwards said.

She denounced the child-welfare system for not doing enough for the little girl when she was alive and the province for not providing information to her sooner when Phoenix's 2005 murder was discovered in 2006. Kematch and her boyfriend, Karl McKay, were convicted of first-degree murder and are serving life sentences for killing Phoenix.

Edwards said accountability from the child-welfare system is the only thing she wants from the inquiry.

"If (Phoenix) can't have it, then accountability for the next child," she said. "If a worker goes out, they've got to make sure that they can see the child or they can be held responsible criminally (if harm comes to a child)."

Edwards' testimony is expected to continue today.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2012 A3

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Updated on Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 11:14 AM CST: replaces photo

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