Shelley Willox

Shelley Willox

  • Social worker with Winnipeg CFS Crisis Response Unit
  • Encountered Phoenix Sinclair file in December 2004

"Walk of shame"

Monday, January 7

Commissioner Ted Hughes opened the day with renewed vigour, noting that this would be the year he would finally deliver the report on Phoenix Sinclair's journey though Manitoba's child welfare system.

But it didn't take long for that fresh energy to go a little stale. After all, there are still 100 witnesses waiting to take the stand.

The first witness of 2013 was Shelley Willox. She is a veteran of Winnipeg CFS's Crisis Response Unit, and that's where she was in December 2004 when she caught Phoenix's file.

Samantha Kematch, Phoenix's mother, had given birth to another child. The Women's Hospital wanted someone from CFS to check in on the family because Kematch told a social worker there she had had some CFS involvement.

Willox got the file and decided it should go to CFS Winnipeg's intake unit. Her hope was that someone would make a home visit within 48 hours.

The file was lobbed back to her. In CFS jargon, when a unit rejects a file referred to it, that is known as "the walk of shame."

Puzzled, Willox herself took on the file briefly. She tried several times over two days to call Kematch at home. There was no response.

Wondering what her next move should be, Willox consulted her supervisor. Diva Faria suggested she try the public health nurse.

Willox and nurse Mary Wu got off on the wrong foot. Willox asked if Wu might tell Kematch to check her messages and whether she thought anything of concern might be occurring in the home.

Wu told Willox she couldn't give away any information about the Kematch family because it would violate the Personal Health Information Act (PHIA).

Willox told Wu the Child and Family Services Act superseded the PHIA. She decided, in the end, to ask her supervisor to talk to Wu's supervisor.

A few days later, and with no outward evidence of an emergent crisis in Phoenix's home, Willox and her supervisor closed Phoenix's file.

No one from the agency saw the little girl. In fact, at this point, no one from the agency had seen her since July 2004.

By far, the most contentious moments today came when commission counsel Sherri Walsh asked Willox if she had run Karl McKay's name through CFSIS, the CFS database.

McKay was listed as the father of Kematch's new child, and the agency knew he was living with her and Phoenix.

Willox steadily maintained that she couldn't remember if she had run the name through the database.

The normally lucid and polished Walsh got a little tough for first time at these proceedings and put the screws to Willox:

Walsh: In fact, you didn't do this search, did you?
Willox: I don't know if I did. I don't remember if I did or didn't.
Walsh: OK. Well, let's see if we can assist your memory.

Walsh proceeded to walk Willox through how she might access CFSIS even without McKay's date of birth. She showed her how easily she might access the right file and exactly which files were available on McKay in 2004.

Then, for nearly 12 minutes, Walsh read excerpts from McKay's long and violent CFS files, which also include letters of warning sent to the agency by concerned probation officers. They detail anti-social behaviour, vicious domestic abuse, and criminal charges.

Again, Walsh asked Willox if she could remember reading these files. Willox said she couldn't.

Walsh then asked Willox if reading this file would have affected her decision to close Phoenix's file.

Willox, faced with these violent details, agreed that if she had read those documents, she would not have closed Phoenix's file so easily.

Aiming for a straight answer, Walsh asked again if Willox could say one way or the other if she had searched for Karl McKay in the database. Once again, Willox demurred and said she couldn't remember.

Welcome back to the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry.

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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