Wednesday, December 12
Kim Edwards is a flamboyant woman: full of passion and drive. That much I know from watching her every day at the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry.
Day in and day out, she sits there, tightly coiled, furiously writing notes during other witnesses' testimony.
I have seen her shake her head in disgust at the witness stand. I have seen her compact body practically vibrate in rage. But all during these proceedings, she has remained silent.
That is, until today.
Today she unleashed her fury at the child welfare system.
Edwards clearly has a lot of anger around how the CFS system failed Phoenix. She detailed the times she called CFS, worried that Samantha Kematch had absconded with Phoenix, and her bitterness when she was told it was no longer any of her concern.
Edwards forcefully countered CFS records that detailed the contact workers made with her. She said those records were false and demanded to know how CFS workers could "write notes about things they didn't do."
Edwards also accused CFS of being a sort of family-busting Gestapo.
"All you need to do," she said, "Is have a BBQ and a few drinks and they come and take your kids away."
Edwards also revealed that when she was 17 years old, CFS took her
daughter away for a year and a half. Edwards testified she was in an
abusive relationship and her father called welfare officials because he
Edwards got her daughter back after the birth of her son. The CFS record was sealed.
Anger overtook Edwards again this afternoon -- on one occasion, shortly after she described the moment she learned Phoenix was dead.
In a volcanic flash, vitriol bubbled over her grief and she lashed out at CFS, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Manitoba government.
Her tone darkened, her voice became at once more strained and more forceful. She even got short with inquiry counsel Sherri Walsh: "Yes, I'm upset because you know what? I have every right to be."
Then later, as agency lawyers asked to bring her 26-year-old sealed CFS record into evidence, she stormed out of the inquiry in disgust.
Edwards's rage was potent, human, even a little theatrical. She made it clear how deeply she has been affected by Phoenix Sinclair's brutal end.
But the most powerful moments came when her love for Phoenix shone through, tinging her testimony with tenderness.
Her face lit up when she described how the little girl navigated her way though the world with delight and determination.
Edwards spoke of a child who loved to swim, walk, play with older kids' skateboards, and sit on her father's lap as he played guitar.
Edwards's application to become Phoenix's foster mother was entered into evidence, a form like any other tedious government form, except for one thing.
Under the heading in which the applicant was to write why s/he wanted to be a foster parent, Edwards wrote in block letters: LOVE.
Another grace note of a moment came when Edwards explained Phoenix's names for the adults in her life. Steve Sinclair was "Dad." Rohan Stephenson was "Bigguy" -- the little girl ran the words "big" and "guy" together.
And who was Edwards? Phoenix heard some of the kids in Edwards's home call her "Mum" and others call her "Nana." So Phoenix married the two and called her "Nanamum."
There was a gentle ripple of laughter through the room, a rare moment of levity and remembrance; a rarer moment of insight into this toddler trying her best to make sense of her world.
Edwards's testimony was often contradictory, even a little scrambly. She admitted this morning that all the dates and events are jumbled in her head since being confronted with all the pieces of paper flying around the inquiry -- excerpts from notes, reviews, and reports.
Much of what she said today will come under intense scrutiny in cross-examination. Lawyers may cast doubt on her words, recollections, and version of events. But it's doubtful anyone will ever cast doubt on Kim Edwards's love for Phoenix Sinclair.
With CBC's Katie Nicholson where an inquiry is trying to figure out how a little girl fell through the cracks.