CFS ignored warnings about Phoenix's well-being, inquiry told

Steve Sinclair reminisces over his daughter Phoenix, who was killed by her mother and her mother's boyfriend



WINNIPEG -- A public inquiry examining the life and death of Phoenix Sinclair has heard more testimony shedding light on how resistance to Manitoba's child-welfare system often factored into decisions made by the people it was set up to serve.

The latest glimpse into how some touched by Winnipeg Child and Family Services (CFS) eluded the system between 2000 and 2004 came Wednesday in testimony from Kim Edwards, Phoenix's godmother.

She cared for the little girl for large portions of her short life.

Phoenix's dad, Steve Sinclair, would leave his daughter with Edwards and her then-husband Rohan Stephenson, partially to avoid scrutiny from CFS, Edwards said.

"Steve didn't drop his baby off so he could go partying, drinking and doing drugs," Edwards replied. "He dropped his baby off because he liked the atmosphere at my house ... he wanted to keep (Phoenix) safe from CFS.

"Because all you have to do is have a barbecue and have some alcohol and all of a sudden it's construed into a drinking party and CFS comes and takes your children ... and you never see them again."

The inquiry is examining the role CFS played in Phoenix's life until 2005, when she was given back to her mother, Samantha Kematch, and her file closed. She would be murdered at age five months later by Kematch and her boyfriend, Karl McKay,.

Edwards didn't hesitate when asked what she wanted to see result from the inquiry.

"Accountability," Edwards said, her voice cracking. "I just want accountability for the next child ... just accountability all around for (CFS's) behaviour."

Edwards, one of the principals of a family-advocacy foundation bearing Phoenix's name, testified about her dealings -- or lack of -- with CFS between fall of 2000 when she first met Phoenix as a baby and early 2004 when she last saw her.

Edwards said the only CFS worker she ever had contact with, Stan Williams, ignored her warning in fall 2003 that Sinclair may not be fit to care for Phoenix.

Phoenix had been yanked from Sinclair's care months earlier after Winnipeg CFS found he couldn't stay sober. After a brief time in foster care, CFS placed Phoenix with Edwards as an official CFS "Place of Safety."

By October 2003, Williams, who had taken over Sinclair's file in July 2003, gave Phoenix back to her father. Edwards never heard from CFS after that, she said.

Months earlier, Williams and his supervisor ignored documented warnings from CFS colleague Laura Forrest, who believed Phoenix was at risk in the care of either Sinclair or Kematch.

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