Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

We all owe Phoenix Sinclair something

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The Free Press has been taking some heat as the trial of Karl McKay and Samantha Kematch unfolds in a small courtroom in Winnipeg. The two are accused of murdering Phoenix Sinclair, a five-year-old whose face first became familiar to readers three years ago, when she was reported missing on her reserve of Fisher River First Nation.

When her body was finally discovered in 2006, wrapped in plastic and buried in the woods near the reserve, a horror story began to emerge. It wasn't possible, many of us thought, that this little girl was abused the way people were whispering she had been.

But over the last two weeks in that courtroom, people have been taking the stand to confirm the whispers and more. The details are nauseating.

Last week, reporter Kevin Rollason watched a videotape of Phoenix's mom, Samantha Kematch, defending McKay. Sure, he'd pull down his pants and ask Phoenix to perform sexual acts on him, she said. But when her little girl said no, Kematch said, "He wouldn't do anything. He'd say, 'just kidding.' "

Veteran court reporter Mike McIntyre watched McKay's son testify this week that during Phoenix's final hours, when she was close to death, his stepmom and dad began "passing her back and forth, punching her."

McIntyre and Rollason are both fathers. It's as difficult for them to sit through this trial as it is for the judge and jury. But it's nothing compared to what Phoenix went through.

"I wanted to go hug this kid today after what he's been through," McIntyre wrote to me Thursday after the 15-year-old son took the stand. "Talk about brave, to testify against your own dad in the face of all this. He was so good on the stand, and his stuff about trying to help Phoenix was just heartbreaking."

As I said, the Free Press is taking some heat as to how we're covering this trial. Too much information, they say.

McIntyre himself got a blast Thursday.

"I have to say that I was very disgusted with the details that were written about the abuse that Phoenix went through," one reader wrote him. "I personally don't think it should have been published as there is enough trash in the paper and details of murders, etc., but that was purely disgusting to read and not something that needed to be shared with the public! Your judgment to write such an article is shocking to say the least."

Don't blame McIntyre, I wrote back. We, too, are disgusted by the details of Phoenix Sinclair's final months.

But it is Mike's job and the media's job to bear witness to the little girl's short and brutal life.

It is our job as a society to bear witness to this case.

We are outraged by this story, but our outrage is misplaced. It's not just about the monsters being revealed in that courtroom. It's about us.

We know about the Third World conditions on reserves, but fail to do anything about them.

We know about the despair, addiction, children in care, lack of education, lack of hope, yet year after year nothing changes.

No one at this paper can even begin to imagine the everyday realities at Fisher River, let alone the aberration that was Phoenix's home in 2005.

What kind of conditions spawned the mother and father who lived there?

What does it say about us as a society that we continue to allow these conditions to exist?

Phoenix Victoria Sinclair died June 11, 2005. Her death went unnoticed for nearly 10 months before McKay's two sons finally got the courage to tell someone what they'd witnessed. She was found buried near the dump.

How will those two boys grow up, having witnessed what they did? What kind of fathers will they be?

"He'd hit her so much that she wouldn't even cry anymore," one boy testified Thursday. "She'd just take it."

For Phoenix's sake, we must take it, too. For her sake, we cry.

It's not enough, but we cry.

margo.goodhand@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2008 A17

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