Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Loving 'godfather' gave all he could

Juggled work, caring for sons, Phoenix

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Rohan Stephenson took Phoenix Sinclair to the hospital when she had an infected object stuck up her nose.

He cared for her often and was probably the last loving person to see her alive.

But he told an inquiry Thursday he had no idea he unwittingly sealed the little girl's fate when her mother, Samantha Kematch, took Phoenix from his care shortly before her fourth birthday in April 2004.

"I assumed they'd take her and Sam would get sick of her in two days and let her go," said the 42-year-old Stephenson.

Kematch kept her, and she and her boyfriend, Karl McKay, murdered Phoenix in 2005.

The inquiry into how the child welfare system failed Phoenix began in September. The public hearings have heard several times about the man identified only as Phoenix's "godfather," who took her to the hospital in February 2003 when she had an infection caused by an object in her nose. That was Stephenson, who testified Thursday he didn't want Child and Family Services involved with him and his kids, so he didn't give his name at Children's Hospital when he took Phoenix there for treatment.

He had no faith in CFS because he'd only seen them hurt, rather than help, families, he said. He's not sure why the hospital forms -- seen many times over the last two weeks at the inquiry -- listed him as her "godfather."

The last time he saw Phoenix was in April 2004, when Kematch took Phoenix from his home for a visit, he said. Stephenson said he didn't know she was a danger to Phoenix. He didn't notify Child and Family Services or Phoenix's father, Steve Sinclair. Stephenson said he didn't notify him because he didn't know where Sinclair was and Sinclair had no phone.

At the time, Stephenson was working nights full-time, caring for quadriplegic residents at 1010 Sinclair St., raising his sons, who were then 11 and 13, and caring for Phoenix during the day instead of sleeping.

"I was exhausted," he told commission counsel Derek Olson.

Stephenson said he didn't trust Child and Family Services and admitted to lying to CFS workers that his estranged wife, Kim Edwards, was living with him so they wouldn't take Phoenix and put her in a foster home with strangers. Edwards moved out in early 2003, and he took care of the kids and Phoenix, who was there more than 50 per cent of the time, he said.

He said Edwards still went to the house to collect her mail, including social-assistance cheques.

Occasionally, Kematch would show up and take Phoenix and when she returned with Phoenix, the child had head lice -- once her head had been shaved because of it, Stephenson testified.

After Kematch took Phoenix for good, Stephenson learned by word of mouth she was mistreating her daughter, he said. A year before Phoenix's body was discovered at the garbage dump on Fisher River First Nation in 2006, police interviewed Stephenson when Phoenix was reported missing. In the interview transcript shown at the inquiry, Stephenson sobbed as he told police about Kematch's rumoured cruelty toward Phoenix.

"Sam would lock Phoenix up in her room or slap her if she was talking when she shouldn't be... Or she'd not feed her... and say 'Just let her cry.' "

The lawyer representing child-welfare agencies at the inquiry asked Stephenson if he didn't bear some of the blame for what happened to Phoenix by not reporting the situation to CFS or being honest with social workers. Stephenson told Kris Saxberg he accepted some of it, but said social workers would have known what was going on if they had done their job and followed up.

"I'm a liar, they're incompetent, and 15,000 other circumstances -- and now Phoenix is dead," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2012 A4


Updated on Friday, December 7, 2012 at 5:03 PM CST: Corrects spelling of name.

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