SOR #3 (Financial assistance officer)
Debbie De Gale
Monday, December 10
Social worker Debbie De Gale was soft-spoken, but her testimony at the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry today was explosive.
De Gale was working at Crisis Response Unit (CRU) in 2004 when she took a call from a financial assistance officer.
In the world of the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry, that officer is known only as Source of Referral No. 3 (S.O.R. No. 3). We heard from that witness this morning.
S.O.R. No. 3 contacted De Gale after Samantha Kematch and Karl McKay applied to add Phoenix Sinclair to their financial benefit agreement.
S.O.R. No. 3 recalled that a social worker had once said the little girl was not to be placed in her mother's care.
Concerned, S.O.R. No. 3 tried twice to reach a social worker before calling the CRU on May 11, 2004.
Debbie De Gale picked up the phone. De Gale testified it was the second time that day someone would call her about Phoenix's safety -- an "aunt" had also contacted the CRU and indicated that she was worried Phoenix might be at risk.
De Gale's job at the CRU was to assess cases and decide whether action was merited and, if so, how quickly.
At the time, response times varied based on the level of risk in the safety assessment: high-risk situations begged a response within 24 hours, medium-risk situations required a response within 48 hours, and low-risk situations within five days.
De Gale pulled out some of the history on Phoenix's family and promptly checked the box marked 24 hours.
That form, De Gale told the inquiry, was later altered.
It was a dramatic moment, to be sure, made all the more so when inquiry counsel Sherri Walsh produced the original document -- scribbles and all.
You could clearly see where the change was made, downgrading the response time from 24 hours to 48 hours.
De Gale testified that she had a clear memory of ticking off the 24-hour response box. She also stated that information she included in the report was missing.
So who made the changes? De Gale pointed the finger at supervisor Diana Verrier.
Verrier was apparently in the habit of altering De Gale's assessments after the fact. According to De Gale, Verrier would often downgrade response times to accommodate workload issues.
De Gale also said Verrier would never consult workers about the amendments she had made. De Gale said she and other CRU workers talked about it and they didn't like these surprise changes.
Verrier's lawyer, Kris Saxberg, poked at De Gale with a succession of pointy questions ... but she was unwavering.
Saxberg raised his voice. De Gale remained quiet, almost mouse-like.
Saxberg suggested that as De Gale's supervisor, Verrier's prerogative would be to make changes to these reports.
Surely, Saxberg asked, there was no malicious intent in tweaking the assessment?
There was a long pause. A very long pause. Even Saxberg shifted a little uneasily.
Then slowly, De Gale replied, "my opinion is if somebody changes my work and makes it look like something I did then they didn't do it in proper faith.
"If she wanted to change that report, or change the response time in any way, she should've documented after my report was finished and put that it was her decision to change the response time due to whatever reason she found fit.
"Do not make something of mine appear like I did it when I didn't do it."
De Gale continues on the stand tomorrow with more cross-examination. Then it will be Verrier's chance to weigh in.
With CBC's Katie Nicholson where an inquiry is trying to figure out how a little girl fell through the cracks.