Witnesses

Steve Sinclair

Steve Sinclair

  • Biological father of Phoenix Sinclair
  • Had custody of Phoenix on several occasions

Phoenix's dad speaks

Wednesday, December 5

This blog post is written by the CBC's Sean Kavanagh, who is covering the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry this week:

Today the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry took a step back from files and notes that aren't there and workers and supervisors that can't remember.

The inquiry focused instead on a father, his struggles to be a decent parent, and the daughter he lost.

To say the cards played to Phoenix's biological father, Steve Sinclair, weren't very good would be a fair statement.

He was a ward of Manitoba's Child and Family Services (CFS) system himself and his mother was a residential school survivor.

One of the coincidences that happen in small place like Manitoba: a case worker that worked with Steve as a child also briefly worked on Phoenix's file.

On the stand today, I never heard Sinclair ask for pity, or lash out in anger against the system, or even really condemn Samantha Kematch, Phoenix's biological mother, for what she did to the little girl.

I heard a guy describe his daughter in the way that most fathers do: what she liked, what she wore, how she moved, how she laughed.

I heard the voice of a man who struggled with alcohol, with poverty, and with a partner that didn't want to be a parent.

There was quiet sarcasm in his voice when he spoke about how he was sometimes treated by CFS case workers, but he never pointed a direct finger in condemnation.

I will admit his testimony did leave some big questions, for which I don't have answers.

Samantha Kematch picked up Phoenix from her place of safety -- in the home of her godparents -- in 2004 and eventually moved to the Fisher River First Nation.

Sinclair said he looked for Phoenix, but ultimately figured she was with her mother and therefore she ought to be safe.

Months passed. None of the inquiry lawyers really pressed Sinclair on his efforts to find his daughter through that time. I am still wondering about those days.

But I suppose it's hard to believe: whether you are a CFS case worker or supervisor -- or a father -- that a mother would be capable of what Kematch and her partner, Karl McKay, ultimately did to that little girl.

Inquiry counsel Sherri Walsh gave reporters a few minutes after Sinclair's testimony today and expressed gratitude to Sinclair for bringing back into focus what this huge effort is all about.

It's easy to give in to anger about how the case was handled, but Steve Sinclair's flaws remind me that we all have them -- case workers, supervisors, the system, everyone.

What can't be easy is for a grown man to sit in front of a room full of mostly strangers and TV cameras and have your life opened up that wide.

It must be even harder to have your own words of loss read back to you in front of all those people. It was then that Steve Sinclair broke down.

It added, for me, another reason to hope the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry gets to the bottom of what happened and offers real changes in a system that looks after kids.

Inside the inquiry

With CBC's Katie Nicholson where an inquiry is trying to figure out how a little girl fell through the cracks.

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