Tuesday, January 15
Christopher Zalevich was Phoenix Sinclair's last chance.
On March 9, 2005, the social worker visited her mother's McGee Street apartment in Winnipeg. As was Child and Family Services (CFS) policy, Zalevich was accompanied by a co-worker, Bill Leskiw.
Samantha Kematch wouldn't let him in the door. Kematch told him she had company and she stepped outside. Zalevich reported that she seemed shy.
Kematch wanted to know who had sent them and tried to get that information out of them. Zalevich replied that they couldn't tell her who tipped them off.
Kematch asked them if it was because she had yelled at Phoenix a few days earlier. Zalevich then asked her about the allegation that had brought them there: that Kematch was locking Phoenix inside a room.
Kematch explained that she and Phoenix shared a room. Zalevich told her it wasn't safe to lock the little girl away; that it would be a bad idea in case there was a fire. She agreed with him.
Kematch's infant daughter -- Phoenix's half-sister -- began to fuss in the apartment. She brought the baby into the hallway and Zalevich observed that Kematch appeared to a be a loving parent.
Zalevich and Leskiw left without ever seeing Phoenix. When Zalevich got back to the office, he suggested the file be closed.
"I believed she was safe," he told the inquiry today.
How Zalevich was able to decide Phoenix was safe without laying eyes on her came up again and again in questioning.
There were no satisfactory answers, though in questioning and cross-examination, legal counsel inferred that Zalevich saw Kematch's affection toward her baby and decided she probably treated Phoenix the same way.
When pressed as to why he didn't push to see Phoenix or enter the apartment, Zalevich cited privacy concerns. He didn't want to infringe on Kematch's rights.
Zalevich also didn't check into the other adult living in the home. A CFS summary file dated March 10, 2005, clearly indicates Karl McKay was Samantha Kematch's common-law partner.
McKay, as we have heard, had a long and violent history documented in graphic detail in the CFS database.
Without seeing Phoenix, without entering her home, and without running a background check on Karl McKay, the agency closed the little girl's file.
After that CFS visit, Kematch told friends that she was getting out of the city so the agency couldn't bother her any more.
She packed up the kids and moved to Fisher River. Phoenix Sinclair's fate was sealed.
With CBC's Katie Nicholson where an inquiry is trying to figure out how a little girl fell through the cracks.