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Phoenix inquiry to get grim

Tot's final weeks to be outlined in testimony

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Some of the most disturbing testimony in the oft-delayed Phoenix Sinclair inquiry that resumes today is expected this week.

Intertribal Child and Family Services social workers at Fisher River First Nation and friends and family who interacted with Phoenix in the final weeks of her life will testify, said commission counsel Sherri Walsh.

A multi-phase inquiry

  • Phase I, which began Sept. 5, resumes today at the Delta Winnipeg. It's inquiring into the circumstances surrounding the death of Phoenix Sinclair, the child-welfare services provided or not provided to her and her family under the Child and Family Services Act; any other circumstances -- apart from the delivery of child-welfare services -- directly related to the death of Phoenix and why her death remained undiscovered for several months. It is expected to finish next week.
  • Phase II starts mid-week next week and will last five weeks. Authors of earlier reports on the handling of Phoenix Sinclair's case and child-welfare best practices will testify. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Manitoba Metis Federation and the dean of the University of Manitoba's faculty of social work will make recommendations.
  • Phase III will last two weeks and focus on the needs and responsibilities of the community. It will be followed by a week of final submissions.
  • The commission's final report is expected by early December. It was expected by Mar. 30, 2012 before the inquiry was bogged down by legal battles.

It's the first time reserve social workers will publicly explain the services that were or were not provided to the five-year-old who was murdered in 2005 by her mother and stepfather. Her death wasn't discovered until 2006 when her battered body was found in a shallow grave at the Fisher River dump.

Authorities didn't know anything about Phoenix's whereabouts until one of her stepbrothers broke down and told his mother the little girl was tortured and murdered by his father Karl "Wes" McKay and Phoenix's mother, Samantha Kematch.

The social worker who interviewed the boy and his mom will also testify this week at the inquiry into how Phoenix fell through the cracks of Manitoba's child-welfare safety net.

The RCMP constable who assisted in the arrest of Kematch and McKay is also on the witness list this week, said Walsh. In 2008, the pair were convicted of first-degree murder. Three years later, the province announced plans for the inquiry that was to present its findings by March 2012. It was delayed by legal challenges before and after it eventually got started in September.

Now the inquiry has nearly completed Phase One -- a chronology of what services were or weren't provided to the little girl who would've turned 13 this month.

Phoenix was involved with CFS from the time she was born in 2000, when she was taken into care, until CFS last closed the file on her in March 2005.

Her mother and stepfather moved from Winnipeg to McKay's reserve, Fisher River.

When the inquiry tracing the chronology of Phoenix's life and death recessed in February, it had heard about the family's move to the reserve and application for welfare. A handful of residents testified already about rare Phoenix sightings and getting a glimpse of her caregivers' cruelty.

During their criminal trial five years ago, the shocking brutality she endured in the final weeks of her life came to light. Over the next 10 days, the inquiry will hear how that happened with no one coming to her rescue.

The mysterious disappearance of CFS supervisors' notes relating to Phoenix's case will also come up. Cross-examination of the head of Winnipeg CFS who testified in February is expected to continue Wednesday. Alana Brownlee told the inquiry earlier she didn't know what happened to the records of supervisors involved with Phoenix's case.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 15, 2013 B3

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Updated on Monday, April 15, 2013 at 8:35 AM CDT: adds fact box

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