Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Delaying inquiry disrespects Phoenix, obstructs truth

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I, like most Manitobans, planned to mourn little Phoenix Sinclair quietly and assumed the inquiry, called to investigate the actions of the child welfare system that was supposed to protect her, would bring out the truth about who screwed up. Her mother and stepfather were found guilty of murder; our courts have done their job and they were sentenced to jail.

Meanwhile, seven years after Phoenix was murdered, we have another delay to the inquiry.

I know many of the people in senior management positions in various child welfare agencies. They are good people who care deeply about the children for whom they are responsible.

However, they have abdicated their responsibility for Phoenix Sinclair to the lawyers. The lawyers are able to use all sorts of technical niceties, allowed under our British-based common law, to delay and delay. What additional legal challenges do the child welfare authorities and others have planned to further delay the inquiry?

When the MGEA went to court earlier to challenge certain jurisdictions of the inquiry, I was extremely angry and discouraged. I used to be the president of the social-services component of that union. We, as a union, had the responsibility to represent our members. The MGEA should recognize its responsibility lies with ensuring its members are well-represented by competent lawyers, not by delaying the search for truth about the years leading up to this child's death.

This time is horrendous for the foster parents and for those brave souls who contacted child welfare agencies to raise concerns about Phoenix's safety. The government and the boards of the umbrella child welfare authorities are adding to their bereavement by delaying the inquiry.

Family Services Minister Jennifer Howard should intervene and instruct her officials to expedite the inquiry. The government has created the authorities, which hired the lawyers, and should exercise its moral suasion to get the process moving. Every time there is a delay, every time there is an additional disrespect for a horribly murdered child, the entire system is held in more disrepute.

I understand how powerless the wonderful people, who complained to the system about how Phoenix was treated, must feel.

A few weeks ago, we heard a woman screaming. It turned out to be a 15-year-old girl in the river. I went down with a flashlight and talked the poor girl into leaving the river. I called police and the next day emailed a child welfare agency. I used email because I wanted a written trail I had raised the issue of the health and safety of this child.

I worry about the girl I talked out of the river.

I worry about how she is being taken care of. Is she in school? Is she getting the level of counseling she needs. Are the adults who fed her booze and drugs being prosecuted?

I think of the people who called about Phoenix. I feel their personal guilt they didn't complain harder. I know how I will feel if my 15-year-old commits suicide because I didn't push harder to get help for her.

Phoenix Sinclair died seven years ago. A poor child who was failed by the system that was responsible to care for her.

This inquiry is crucial to open up the child and family services system to ensure there are no more senseless deaths.

I fear the lawyers and my old union will make the proceedings so difficult the truth will be obscured by technical minutiae.

Sel Burrows is a community activist who lives in Point Douglas.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 21, 2012 A13

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