It’s a case that is drawing comparisons to that of Phoenix Sinclair: a 21-month-old Manitoba girl neglected, starved and beaten to death after being returned by Child and Family Services to her biological parents.

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This article was published 27/4/2016 (2006 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s a case that is drawing comparisons to that of Phoenix Sinclair: a 21-month-old Manitoba girl neglected, starved and beaten to death after being returned by Child and Family Services to her biological parents.

And it’s one we are legally prohibited from telling you about — at least for now.

Kierra Elektra Star Williams

Kierra Elektra Star Williams

Details surrounding the July 2014 death of Kierra Elektra Star Williams on the Peguis First Nation have mostly been shrouded in secrecy. Police have released little information publicly while government officials, community leaders and those who were tasked with protecting the little girl have remained silent.

A series of publication bans have also been imposed on the bail hearings for the three people charged in Kierra’s death: her mother, Vanessa Bushie; her father, Daniel Williams; and her 22-year-old sister, Jasmine Williams. Bushie is accused of second-degree murder, while her husband and sister are charged with manslaughter. They are also all charged with failing to provide the necessities of life. The charges have not been proven and they are presumed innocent.

The three accused have now been returned to the community, the latest occurring on Wednesday when Bushie was released by Queen’s Bench Justice Vic Toews despite objections from the Crown. At this point, we can’t tell you about any specific submissions or reasons behind the decision without the risk of contempt of court proceedings.

"The Free Press will challenge the publication ban here because the facts of this case need to be heard now in a province where problems involving children in care have made international headlines," Free Press editor Paul Samyn said following the latest court decision. The public has been told that the system has been fixed in the wake of Phoenix Sinclair. But what the Free Press heard in court (Wednesday) suggests otherwise and the public shouldn’t have to wait years to find out what happened to baby Kierra after CFS returned her to her parents."

Inquiry expected

A three-week preliminary hearing is set to begin in December, and a Queen’s Bench trial isn’t expected to happen until 2018, at the earliest. By then, it will be at least four years since the tragedy occurred. Justice officials have told the Free Press they expect an inquiry will be called once all the details of what happened emerge publicly. That could happen years after the trial concludes and the appeals process is exhausted.

SUPPLIED</p><p>Phoenix Sinclair is shown in a family photo released by the Commission of Inquiry that looked into her 2005 death. </p>

SUPPLIED

Phoenix Sinclair is shown in a family photo released by the Commission of Inquiry that looked into her 2005 death.

"I should hope there would be (an inquiry). This is Phoenix Sinclair, Part 2," a source said Wednesday. Phoenix suffered months of horrific abuse at the hands of her mother and stepfather, then went months before anyone even noticed she was dead. Her case has become emblematic of a system in such turmoil it could not protect toddlers from harm at the hands of those meant to love them.

As the Free Press previously reported, Intertribal CFS was involved with the family prior to Kierra’s death. The girl was returned home to her birth parents in the months prior, although further specifics have not been shared publicly by officials.

Within hours of the three arrests in January 2015 following a six-month police investigation, the province launched two separate investigations.

Some investigations are automatically launched when children die in care, including a child-abuse investigation, designed in part to determine whether an individual’s name should be placed on the Provincial Child Abuse Registry, and another to assess the safety and risk to other children in the home.

The Office of the Children’s Advocate may also investigate if the child was in care or if the family had involvement with a Child and Family Services agency. The child-welfare system typically waits until a criminal investigation is complete before opening its own probes. However, the results of both investigations will likely never be made public.

Case still not well known

Government officials previously confirmed Kierra had a child-welfare case file, but would not say what kind of services the girl received, from what agency, for how long or whether there are early indications child-protection safeguards failed.

Senior staff at CFS have told the Free Press their review found the agency generally did the right thing in Kierra’s case. The review recommended better training and better assessment, which reviews always do, but highlighted no systemic failures.

Unlike Phoenix, it would appear Kierra’s name and case barely register with most members of the public. Previous calls by the Free Press about her to band leaders in Peguis, social-work sources and provincial staff often required a reminder: "You know, the toddler killed in Peguis."

As well, the Free Press had to fight to allow publication of Kierra’s name, which was at one point covered by a publication ban that was eventually overturned.

There has been little outcry from First Nations about Kierra’s death, and the board of Intertribal — or the chiefs who appoint them — has offered no explanation, assurances or accountability.

www.mikeoncrime.com

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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