Monday, November 26
Memory can be an elusive thing -- especially a decade after the fact -- but today's witness testimony bordered on amnesia.
Delores Chief-Abigosis was assigned the Phoenix Sinclair file in November 2000.
Just two months earlier, little Phoenix was handed back to her biological parents, Samantha Kematch and Steve Sinclair, albeit with strings attached.
Winnipeg Child and Family Services was worried enough about Pheonix's welfare to require the young couple to sign a service agreement with the agency. One of the main points they agreed to was to have regular visits with a social worker.
Because social worker Kerri-Lynn Greeley was leaving CFS Winnipeg in the fall of 2000, she filed a transfer summary and never saw Phoenix again after September.
The file wasn't assigned to another worker until it landed on Delores Chief-Abigosis's lap that November.
The family had Phoenix home a full two months at that point, without a single visit from an assigned social worker.
The case file Chief-Abigosis inherited held many cautionary notes about the potentially combustible family dynamic at play, but the social worker couldn't recall reading over any of those details.
When asked today of her interpretation of the service agreement,
Chief-Abigosis stated that she took it to mean the family probably
required weekly or bi-weekly meetings with a social worker.
That's what she said today ... but her notes show that isn't what she put into practice.
According to Chief-Abigosis's own notes, she did not attempt to make contact with the family until Feb. 1, 2001. She showed up at their Magnus Avenue home, but no one was there.
The following week, Chief-Abigosis tried again and encountered Steve Sinclair and Samantha Kematch as they were leaving. They arranged for another visit.
On Feb. 9, 2001, she finally had a proper "contact" visit with the family, during which time Kematch was surly and uncommunicative. The details of this visit were reproduced in vivid detail in a long paragraph.
Derek Olson, a senior associate counsel with the inquiry, asked whether the notes were correct: that there was no contact between the social worker and Phoenix's family between November 2000 and February 2001.
Chief-Abigosis chafed at giving straight answers. She explained that she took notes in different ways: some by hand, some with the computer. She said she had bad handwriting and some of her handwritten notes may not have made it into the case file.
The questions went in circles. Olson would ask her if a family visit was important enough to be entered in the notes; Chief-Abigosis would say yes.
Olson would then suggest that if that family visit wasn't in the notes, then it perhaps didn't happen; Chief-Abigosis would say an attempt at a visit might have happened, but it just wasn't entered in the notes.
It would invariably end with Chief-Abigosis trotting out her well-worn phrase: "I can't recall."
Memory continued to plague the social worker when Olson asked her if she realized Kematch was pregnant during that Feb. 9 visit.
Chief-Abigosis replied, "I can't recall."
Several emails to Chief-Abigosis were also entered into the record today. Some came from other social workers alerting her to alarming situations arising in the Sinclair/Kematch home.
One series of emails warned Chief-Abigosis of a violent incident between Kematch and Sinclair, and an inappropriate caregiver being on the premises.
Another warned that Kematch was drinking heavily and the situation was becoming increasingly volatile.
By Chief-Abigosis's own admission, some of these emergent crises were high-risk and required a response within 24 hours.
Chief-Abigosis took days to respond to those situations. Why? She didn't recall.
Chief-Abigosis was clearly coached not to cop to anything she didn't remember. While there is some merit in playing it safe, the sheer number of times the phrase "I can't recall" fell from her lips threatened to make a farce of the proceedings.
In fact, by day's end she would have leaned on those three words nearly 100 times.
There were moments Olson would ask a question and I caught others in the room mouthing Chief-Abigosis's response with her: "I can't recall."
Chief-Abigosis continues on the stand tomorrow, when she will be pressed once more to delve into the past. 101, 102, 103...?
With CBC's Katie Nicholson where an inquiry is trying to figure out how a little girl fell through the cracks.