Tuesday, November 27
It is astonishing how casual an admission it was: a blink, and you'll miss it moment.
The afternoon session was just getting underway, and former CFS Winnipeg supervisor Angela Balan was on the stand.
Measured and understated, she described how meticulously she maintained her supervisory notes: they were type-written and stored in blue binders, so that social workers could easily access and reference them.
That's when Derek Olson, the inquiry's senior associate counsel, dropped the bomb.
"My understanding is there's been a search for the supervisor notes for all supervisors involved, and they haven't been located. Is that the same with your notes?" Olson asked.
Balan matter-of-factly replied, "That's what Mr. McKinnon has advised me that they weren't able to locate."
In case you were wondering, that means all supervisory notes for the five years Phoenix was shuffled in and out of the child welfare system are missing, presumed destroyed.
Gordon McKinnon, the lawyer for Manitoba's Department of Family Services, says the department conducted a diligent search for the notes but could not find them.
McKinnon maintains those missing supervisory notes won't have a big impact on the inquiry because most of the information will likely appear in case files.
Not surprisingly, Olson took a slightly different tack, calling it a difficult situation.
Without those notes, he said, "You don't get a sense of what was actually happening at the time."
The supervisory notes could be routine, yes, but they could also be significant.
This morning -- while social worker Delores Chief-Abigosis was on the stand -- we got a taste of just how helpful those missing notes might prove.
Somehow, two sets of Angela Balan's supervisory notes were located and they were entered into evidence. One excerpt indicated something wasn't right with the Phoenix Sinclair casework.
Some background: before social worker Kerri-Lynn Greeley left her post at Winnipeg CFS in October of 2000, she filed a transfer summary on Phoenix's family. That's a document that summarizes all the important details about a family for the next social worker who will take on the case.
At the time, Phoenix had just been returned to the care of her biological parents. Among the conditions of that return: her mother, Samantha Kematch, had to undergo a psychiatric assessment.
Greeley's notes on the file clearly state Kematch met with Dr. Gary Altman on Sept. 13, 2000, and he did not think she was depressed.
The psychiatric assessment information would have been front and centre in the file Delores Chief-Abigosis inherited in November 2000.
And yet, Angela Balan's supervisory notes -- dated Feb. 5, 2001 -- indicate neither Chief-Abigosis nor her supervisor appeared to know whether Kematch had undergone a psychiatric assessment.
Had Chief-Abigosis ever thoroughly read the case file? Had she read it and forgotten the details? Did she neglect to dust it off now and then and review? Or had she simply failed to impart that information to Balan? Or did Balan get it wrong? We didn't really get any firm answers.
But what we did get -- courtesy of this lone supervisory note -- a clear signal someone had dropped the ball on this file.
There's no way of knowing what other glaring omissions, miscommunications, errors, or evidence might have been contained in those missing supervisory notes.
But we do know this: between 2000 and 2005, Phoenix Sinclair's file was handled by at least 10 supervisors, none of whom will be able to reference their notes.
With CBC's Katie Nicholson where an inquiry is trying to figure out how a little girl fell through the cracks.