Thursday, December 6
This blog entry was written by the CBC's Sean Kavanagh, who is covering the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry this week:
Witnesses in a court -- or in this case, an inquiry -- don't come wrapped like the perfect Christmas present, meeting all the expectations of both giver and receiver.
Memories can fade and people sometimes make poor choices. Then, they are suddenly forced to air those decisions, sometimes from years past, like wet laundry ... in this case, in front of cameras and a phalanx of lawyers.
Rohan (Ron) Stephenson, who appeared before the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry today, was one of the few bright lights in the short life of Phoenix Sinclair -- a present whose wrapping was a bit tattered and the ribbon hanging off, but containing a real gift from the heart.
At Stephenson's house, they partied sometimes. People smoked pot. He worked nights and was often exhausted. But that has nothing to do with how much he cared for the little girl and how he tried to make his home a safe place for her.
Stephenson is a well-spoken man, able to put into words what many could not say on the stand. He talked about being part of the "marginalized part of society": people who don't have much, don't trust authority, and don't get respect from many other people.
He also forgot a lot of details. They just weren't important to him at the time, and he didn't remember them.
Stephenson did admit that he lied to CFS workers. He didn't come clean about his relationship with partner Kim Edwards ending, and the dynamic in his house was therefore changing.
But once in a while, candor, even when you acknowledge you've been lying, boosts credibility.
Stephenson also refused to condemn Child and Family Services (CFS) workers and lay the whole blame of Phoenix's death at their door.
"So I was a liar and they were incompetent and 15,000 other circumstances all came together, and now Phoenix is dead," he told the inquiry today.
Stephenson shows just how tough it must be for overworked CFS workers, who are under a lot of pressure, to make decisions.
How can someone pass judgement on Stephenson? Here's a smart guy with a heart of gold and a healthy disregard for authority.
How can someone determine that Steve Sinclair, Phoenix's biological father, has really turned the corner on his drinking and is ready to parent?
Or how could someone even guess that Samantha Kematch, Phoenix's mother, was capable of doing probably the worst thing anyone can do to a child?
Add to that mix a CFS mandate to keep families together as much as possible. How would you or I be able to make all these decisions given so many variables?
Stephenson did a couple of things after he finished testifying before the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry today. He dragged out a couple of "huge elephants," so to speak, and plunked them down in front of reporters.
These "elephants" have a little less to do to with the tough calls and difficult decisions that child-care workers make everyday, and are more about the process itself and the accountability people expect (in hindsight, of course).
It's best to leave off with a chunk of Rohan Stephenson's words and ask this question: are the workers responsible, or the system that guides them?
"I think one of the things we need to develop [is] a standard of practice. These people look after our children. Nurses, even the lawyers in there -- they do something wrong, they gotta answer to the bar. Who do social workers answer to? Nobody," he said.
"There isn't even an agency ... it's a bunch of different agencies. You can shred notes, you can lose your files, and then just go back to work the next day. Why aren't those files protected the same way medical files are protected by PHIA [the Personal Health Information Act]?
"If you can't find them, then you better come up with $50,000 and a new job, because it's important. These are our children."
With CBC's Katie Nicholson where an inquiry is trying to figure out how a little girl fell through the cracks.