Witnesses

Bill Leskiw

Bill Leskiw

  • Veteran CRU Worker
  • Accompanied Christopher Zalevich to Samantha Kematch's home on March 9, 2005

The 'backup worker'

Wednesday, January 16

When Christopher Zalevich made that last Child and Family Services visit to Phoenix Sinclair's Winnipeg home in March 2005, he wasn't alone.

Bill Leskiw was there, too.  Today at the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry, Leskiw spoke of that visit as best he could.

Leskiw is a veteran CFS worker and had nearly 20 years of experience under his belt when he accompanied Zalevich on that visit to Samantha Kematch's apartment.

Workers in CFS's Crisis Response Unit tried to buddy up on home visits for safety reasons. Having a "backup" worker along for the ride could also be a big help for workers suddenly facing complicated situations.

On that particular day, Zalevich was asked to check into allegations Phoenix Sinclair was being locked in a room.

The two managed to get inside the apartment building, but Kematch didn't let them past her door.

Zalevich told Kematch it wasn't safe to lock her child in a room. After a 10- to 15-minute conversation, the workers left. Zalevich returned to the office and recommended the file be closed.

Leskiw has no memory of that day. He isn't even sure if he was briefed on the reason for the field visit to Kematch's apartment. However, he certainly seemed sure of his colleague's judgment.

Zalevich, Leskiw told the inquiry, put in many years in Abuse Intake and had sound expertise.

Leskiw testified that for years, he has gone to Zalevich for advice on certain abuse-related situations.

As a "backup" worker, Leskiw said he had very little to do with decision-making on the Phoenix Sinclair file.

He was cagey every time he was asked about how he would have handled the situation if it was his file. Leskiw refused to speculate and said the file needed to be looked at in a continuum.

So what of Leskiw's own role in this visit? A report conducted after Phoenix's death hit a sour note with the worker.

In that report, Leskiw's supervisor, Diva Faria, said she "trusted" Leskiw --  as the more experienced worker -- to "make the right decision on the visit and to be a help" to Zalevich.

An angry Leskiw took those words as biting criticism of his work. He also firmly stated that as the "backup" worker, it wasn't his file to manage.

"I don't see me as being in a position to make decisions with respect to this particular intake," Leskiw told the inquiry.

"That's not the role of the backup worker. If a supervisor or a superior is wanting me to be in a position to make decisions, then that should be indicated to me."

Commission lawyer Derek Olson asked if Leskiw could have intervened when Kematch wouldn't let them see Phoenix.

Leskiw replied, "As a backup worker, I wouldn't necessarily go over the head of the primary worker in a situation like that.

"I myself have been a primary worker where a backup worker has felt it necessary to intervene and has actually made the situation worse," he testified.

ANCR lawyer Kris Saxberg asked him, "Is it also fair that if you had serious objection with the way that work was being done by Mr. Zalevich, you would have spoken up?"

Leskiw agreed: "If there was something that would constitute an immediate child protection concern, I would have spoken up if it was being missed by the worker."

Something, we now know, was missed: an opportunity to save an abused and neglected little girl from a brutal end.

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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