Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Welfare paid to killers after death of Phoenix

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AFTER killing Phoenix Sinclair, her supposed caregivers had no problem continuing to collect social assistance for her, the inquiry into the girl's death was told Tuesday.

Phoenix's mother, Samantha Kematch, and stepfather, Karl McKay, applied for Manitoba Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) in November 2005 when they moved back to Winnipeg from Fisher River First Nation, where they had murdered Phoenix that summer and buried her remains at the dump.

"Phoenix was no longer alive," said commission counsel Sherri Walsh. "How is it that EIA was paying (her) benefits?" she asked Tim Herkert, who was the area EIA director in 2005.

"They advised staff she was still with them," Herkert testified at the inquiry. It was ordered by the province in 2011 to find out how the little girl, in and out of care, slipped through Manitoba's child-welfare safety net.

Phoenix was born into poverty in 2000 and apprehended at birth from Kematch and her father, Steve Sinclair. The young couple got Phoenix back five months later and had another baby in 2001. Kematch left Sinclair with the two babies in June 2001 and the infant Echo died of a respiratory illness. Phoenix was apprehended from Sinclair in 2003 and returned to his care months later. Kematch reappeared and took Phoenix in April 2004. She was living with McKay and pregnant when he applied for welfare benefits, with Kematch listed as his partner. In May 2004, he applied to have Phoenix added to his welfare budget as well. Kematch had her fourth baby in November 2004, who was also added to McKay's budget.

In April 2005, after Winnipeg Child and Family Services tried visiting their home to check on reports that Kematch was abusing Phoenix and locking her in a bedroom, the couple moved to the reserve. They left the provincial welfare system until they moved back to Winnipeg in November 2005 and once again applied for EIA. That December, Kematch had her fifth baby, who was added to McKay's welfare budget. His application to get back on provincial assistance included Phoenix, who had died five months earlier after being abused, tortured and murdered by McKay and Kematch.

"What amount of money would he receive by claiming a third child?" asked Jeff Gindin, the lawyer representing Phoenix's father and longtime caregiver Kim Edwards.

"I don't know the exact amount," said Herkert. "It would be a very modest amount -- less than $200 a month."

Herkert testified it wouldn't have taken much for a CFS social worker to get the information she thought was needed to check out McKay's violent background.

The social worker assigned to the case in the summer of 2004 testified earlier she couldn't check on McKay's history because she didn't know his birth date. Shelley Willox (formerly Wiebe) said she contacted EIA for McKay's date of birth but the worker wouldn't provide it. The EIA electronic paper trail, however, indicates Willox contacted welfare to report that McKay was living with Kematch. There is no record of her asking EIA for McKay's date of birth. The now-retired EIA employee who took the call testified earlier she didn't recall the incident but would have recorded requests for information.

Herkert said Tuesday McKay's date of birth would not have been difficult for EIA to obtain. It often shares information with child welfare, he said. He said he couldn't understand why the worker who took the CFS call about Kematch and McKay wouldn't provide something as simple as a date of birth.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 23, 2013 A4

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