Wednesday, January 9
This is the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry, but the little girl is often strangely absent from the proceedings.
Phoenix gets lost in the day-to-day procedure, as an assembly line of lawyers work over an assembly line of child welfare workers.
Today, Phoenix zoomed into focus with jarring and heart-rending clarity.
Two witnesses, whose identities are protected through a court order, gave testimony about their friend, Samantha Kematch, who is Phoenix's mother.
Both met Kematch in a group home when they were teens. Both hung out with Kematch later in life, when they were all parents living in Winnipeg.
Of all the times they hung out together, the first witness only ever encountered Kematch with Phoenix twice.
In the first instance, the witness thought Phoenix was an obedient and quiet little girl. On a play date, Phoenix showed up in a white dress and a little hat.
Phoenix played in the back yard and -- as four-year-olds are wont to do -- got dirty. The witness testified that Kematch got angry with Phoenix, said she was being bad, and took her home.
The second time the witness saw Kematch, she was with her daughter at a bus stop at Dufferin and McGregor.
Kematch was coaching the little girl to call herself an "f---ing bitch."
It was a strange moment, to say the least, when commission counsel Sherri Walsh coaxed the actual words from the witness.
The witness was reluctant to say the expletive for the record, and was equally reluctant in 2004 to hear them from a child.
Another glimpse into the sorry state of Phoenix's life came later as the witness recalled Christmas of 2004.
Kematch showed up at the witness's home with Phoenix's presents and left them there, saying the little girl was too bad to deserve them.
The witness didn't want the Barbie dolls, but Kematch shrugged and left them behind.
The second witness spoke about a shopping date with Kematch. The witness waited inside Kematch's apartment as she locked the bedroom door.
The witness heard whimpering. If Kematch cared about the sounds coming from behind the barricaded room, she didn't show it.
She and the witness left the apartment -- the witness fearing Phoenix was shut in behind the door.
The second witness also testified about a disturbing incident while on the phone with Kematch.
Kematch was washing Phoenix in the bath and the witness heard her say, "If you wouldn't play with yourself, you wouldn't stink so much."
The witness was shocked to hear Kematch say such words to a four-year-old.
This is where the testimony of both witnesses bored into the darker, unspoken parts of Phoenix's life.
Both witnesses would often ask Kematch where her daughter was. Kematch would tell them she was with "family" or with "Wes."
"Wes" is Karl Wesley McKay, who was a trucker and Kematch's boyfriend.
Kematch said her four-year-old child was often on the road with him.
Both witnesses gave testimony today that they feared that something was wrong with that picture.
McKay was not Phoenix's biological father. They noticed Phoenix was touching herself a lot. She was also frequently wetting the bed.
Both witnesses expressed concern Phoenix was being sexually abused by Karl McKay.
Phoenix may not have been the only one being abused. The first witness remembered one time when Kematch was afraid to go home. She had used all the grocery money to buy crack and was afraid of what McKay would do when he found out.
The witness gave Kematch groceries so she wouldn't "get in trouble."
Both witnesses were rather casual about Kematch's ongoing crack habit, with one witness saying Kematch had never really given it up in all the years they knew one another.
Certainly, this is something many of the child and family services (CFS) workers we have heard from knew nothing about.
Mounting fears for Phoenix's safety forced the two witnesses to tip off CFS. They wanted someone to check in on the little girl.
But both, bound by their friendship with Kematch, wanted to remain anonymous.
They testified because theirs was an anonymous tip, the agency didn't take them seriously.
One of them would go to a foster parent with some pull in the agency. That foster parent was able to instigate a home visit.
We don't know what happened during that CFS visit, only that afterward, Kematch told her friends she was moving to Fisher River First Nation, where CFS could not bother her anymore.
That would be the last either witness would ever see of Phoenix Sinclair.
With CBC's Katie Nicholson where an inquiry is trying to figure out how a little girl fell through the cracks.