Pheonix Sinclair inquiry hears of lies and mistrust

Phoenix Sinclair.



WINNIPEG -- The man who cared for Phoenix Sinclair for large portions of her life admits lying to a child-welfare worker months before allowing the "incredible" little girl to visit with her mother, who, along with her lover, wound up horrifically abusing and murdering her.

"I give you that I lied to them, there's no question about that," Rohan Stephenson, 42, bluntly told an inquiry into the role Manitoba Child and Family Services (CFS) played in Phoenix's life prior to her murder in summer 2005 at the hands of Samantha Kematch and her boyfriend Karl McKay.

"Certainly we can all agree ... that (CFS) made no effort to follow up," the forthright Stephenson told Commissioner Ted Hughes.

"So I was a liar, and they were incompetent and 15,000 other circumstances all came together and now Phoenix is dead," he said.

Stephenson and his ex-wife, Kim Edwards, were family friends of Kematch and Steve Sinclair, Phoenix's father.

Over the years, Stephenson said, the "beautiful" child spent more and more time at their home, and it became her CFS-approved temporary "place of safety" after Phoenix was yanked from Sinclair's care in June 2003 -- the second time in her life she had been apprehended.

Phoenix wound up back at Stephenson's northwest Winnipeg home in January 2004 after Sinclair, her primary caregiver, went AWOL and CFS was tipped that Kematch was smoking crack around her and going out boozing.

Winnipeg CFS intake worker Lisa Conlin tracked Phoenix down. She and Stephenson came to an informal, but CFS-endorsed "private arrangement," allowing Phoenix to continue staying with him.

A letter confirming the plan advises Sinclair was not to care for Phoenix without the agency being told so a risk assessment could be done.

There's no mention of any similar obligation for Kematch in the letter, despite CFS saying it had "serious concerns" about the lifestyles of each parent.

He said he never had any indication Kematch was a risk. The letter doesn't define any obligation for CFS to keep tabs on Phoenix.

Stephenson admitted Conlin wasn't given the full picture regarding his homelife. He failed to mention he and Edwards had long been separated and that he worked nights, leaving Phoenix in the care of two of his own kids, 11 and 13.

He testified he was "exhausted" when he allowed Kematch and her mother, Bertha, to take Phoenix for a visit just before her fourth birthday in April.

Kematch and McKay were convicted in 2008 of first-degree murder in Phoenix's death.

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