When this inquiry first started many months ago now, commission counsel Sherri Walsh read a powerful opening statement:
"One of the central themes of this inquiry, quite plainly," she said, "is to consider how it is that in our society, a small child can become so invisible, invisible to an entire community, one which includes social service agencies, schools, neighbours, friends and family -- so invisible as to literally disappear."
We have heard extensively about the shortcomings of the child welfare system -- poor record-keeping, high turnover rates, high workloads, lack of training and experience -- but what about neighbours, friends and family?
This week, between all the horrifying details of abusive behaviour witnessed by members of Karl McKay's family, a partial answer emerged: fear.
Allison Kakewash was 19 when she first brought her baby for a visit
to McKay's Fisher River home. But, the play-date with five-year-old
Phoenix Sinclair and her baby half-sister was soon cut short. Phoenix
accidentally knocked one of the babies over.
Karl McKay violently seized the little girl and threw her in a dark room, calling her a "f--ing bitch."
"It had a fridge in it, "Kakewash recalled, "but I don't remember if it had a bed. It was dark."
Phoenix was still alone in the dark room hours later when Kakewash left.
The next time Kakewash visited the home, Phoenix was again barred in the room.
"I went to the door opened it," Kakewash told the inquiry.
was standing there with a blanket over her head, in her panties and she
was standing there looking at me. I asked her what her name was, because
I didn't know if that was Phoenix or not. But she just stood there, and
my uncle told me to get out of that room."
Kakewash closed the door, but not before she notice marks all over little girl's body.
"I dunno if it was bruises, scrapes or dirt," she said.
Commission lawyer Kathleen McCandless asked Kakewash if she considered calling CFS about what she saw:
McCandless: Can you tell the commission, did you call CFS?
MCandless: Why didn't you call CFS?
Kakewash: I was scared of my uncle.
may have kept family from going to child welfare agencies or the
police, but it wasn't the only thing that kept Phoenix's plight a secret
from the authorities.
Cpl. Robert Baker
headed up the RCMP investigation into Phoenix's disappearance. His
investigation hit a number of roadblocks.
Child welfare officials
refused, at first, to release Phoenix's closed files to RCMP.
The Winnipeg School Division confirmed she had been registered in their system, but they had no other record of her.
of course McKay and Kematch were wily, outsmarting family and the
authorities. Baker was asked why he thought it took so long -- nine
months or so -- for anyone to realize the little girl was missing.
"The mother and the boyfriend were very deceptive and tricking their family," he stated.
"They were moving around and that caused jurisdictional problems."
would arrest Samantha Kematch at Portage Place mall on March 9, 2006,
when she tried to pass off another little girl as Phoenix. It confirmed
Baker's worst fears: the little girl was dead.
Worse still, the horrific witness statements from Karl McKay's sons that started the investigation would prove to be true.
On Monday, the inquiry will hear from McKay's sons and their mother. Their names are protected by a court order.