Monday, March 11
After an extended break the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry resumes this morning.
For more than half a year now the most expensive inquiry in Manitoba's history has been lumbering along -- albeit with a few stops and starts. It has revisited every single one of Phoenix Sinclair's encounters with the child welfare system. We have heard from front-line social workers, their supervisors, managers and CEOs. We have heard from a school principal, a nurse, and a psychiatrist. We have heard from former foster parents, a former probation officer, and people who knew the little girl's mother.
Now the Inquiry is finally pulling into Fisher River: the community in which Phoenix was murdered and secretly buried. We got an eerie prelude of what the next three weeks will bring just before the inquiry broke on Feb 7th.
Samantha Kematch and Karl McKay moved out of Winnipeg after CFS showed up at their McGee St. apartment in March of 2005. They rented a home in Fisher River from Angela Murdoch. Murdoch testified she never saw any children around the home. She described going to the house once to collect rent. Kematch would only open the door a crack. Eventually, Murdoch asked the couple to leave.
But before then they had started to set up their new life in Fisher River. Band assistance administrator Shirley Cochrane signed Karl McKay's assistance cheques. According to band files, McKay was claiming assistance for one spouse and three children -- including Phoenix.
Neither Murdoch nor Cochrane ever saw Phoenix Sinclair.
But sisters Florence Bear and Darlene Garson did. The two are related to Karl McKay.
Bear recalled running into McKay outside a store. Phoenix -- her hair cropped -- looked like a boy. Bear asked McKay if Phoenix was his child. She told the Inquiry he replied, "No, she's too ugly to be mine. There is no resemblance."
Darlene Garson recalled Phoenix sitting stiffly in the back seat of the car. The little girl was clad in a white-striped long sleeve shirt and long rubber boots. She stared ahead -- not interacting with anyone.
Weeks later, Garson noticed Phoenix's absence. She asked McKay and Kematch where Phoenix was. They told her they had "sent her off with her granny." Then, Garson testified, they laughed.
Garson also recalled the day McKay asked to borrow a spade from her home. She would later learn that spade was used to bury the little girl's body.
The day took an even darker turn when Keith Murdock took the stand. He lived a stone's throw away from the house in which Phoenix met her end.
One summer night, in 2005, Murdock couldn't sleep. He sat at his dining room table and lit a cigarette gazing at the stars. But then something caught his attention at the house across the way.
Murdock caught sight of the headlights of Karl McKay's Ford Tempo backing up to the front door. He watched as McKay carried out two garbage bags and put them in the truck. McKay then walked out of the house "carrying something in his arms like a person carrying a rug or a person carrying a child."
He watched as the bundle was placed in the back seat.
The next day Murdock says he saw a mattress burning on McKay's lawn.
Murdock contacted police in 2006 after he learned of Phoenix's death. He told the inquiry he didn't know whether he had witnessed McKay disposing of the five-year-old's body but said, "I didn't want to carry that with me."
This week we will hear more from people who knew Phoenix Sinclair and who began to wonder where she was.
With CBC's Katie Nicholson where an inquiry is trying to figure out how a little girl fell through the cracks.