Tuesday, April 23
Today Phoenix Sinclair would have been 13 years old. There are no balloons and no cake. Instead, her day was marked by the end of the first phase of the mammoth public inquiry into her death.
Phase 1 of the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry was all about the evidence. After 54 days and 81 witnesses, a greater understanding of what went wrong and when has emerged.
Phoenix's bumpy ride through the child welfare system began at birth, when she was apprehended hours after coming into this world.
The system, the inquiry has revealed, was deeply flawed throughout Phoenix's brief life.
Social workers testified about high workloads, stress, poor information-sharing and serious issues with documentation and record-keeping.
Almost all the supervisory notes from Phoenix Sinclair's time in care have been lost, despite the desperate efforts of CFS agencies and the Department of Child and Family Services to locate them.
There were also the people who knew Phoenix. People who witnessed her mother, Samantha Kematch, and stepfather, Karl McKay, abuse and neglect the little girl.
Some called CFS, some say they tried to call CFS, some did nothing.
Many spoke of harbouring deep suspicions about -- if not outright fear of -- CFS. Witnesses spoke of a reluctance to involve authorities.
We heard it again today from Doe #4, Karl McKay's daughter from a previous relationship.
Doe #4 didn't really get to know McKay until she was 15. She called him her "best friend," even thought he hit her once when they had both been drinking.
Doe #4 recalled watching as Samantha Kematch smoked crack while pregnant. She testified she told Kematch she shouldn't do drugs, but stopped short of calling CFS.
"I didn't want her baby to grow up in CFS," the woman explained.
A closer analysis of the uneasy relationship between CFS and the people it is meant to serve will come in the months ahead.
Phases 2 and 3 of the inquiry will offer insights into the reports written after Phoenix's death -- some of which have never before been made public.
The coming weeks will also give us a larger social and historical context of the issues that led to a little girl being lost in the system.
These past 54 days of testimony have pulled back the curtain on a world many know nothing about. It's been a revealing glimpse into the inner workings of a system that cares for nearly 10,000 of Manitoba's most vulnerable children.
And the 81 witnesses have, with little brushstrokes, helped paint a fuller picture of Phoenix Sinclair. We knew how she suffered and how she died, but we didn't know much about how she lived. We still don't ... but we know a little more.
We now know when she was apprehended from her father in June 2003, she was excited to spend the night in CFS care with another baby.
We know she had a healthy appetite and was cranky when she first woke up in the morning.
We know she was hungry for a maternal relationship, calling any women in her sphere "Mom."
We know from Phoenix's former caregiver, Kim Edwards, that she was adventurous, liked to swim, listen to music, and was -- however briefly -- a happy child.
Commission counsel Sherri Walsh put it best today: "Certainly her life cannot be reduced to evidence which is heard at a public inquiry, but I think it's fair to say that Manitobans will always remember Phoenix's face and the stories that were told by those who knew and loved her."
It's safe to say Phoenix Sinclair didn't know too many happy birthdays. No celebrations today either ... but for the first time in 13 years, there are some answers.
With CBC's Katie Nicholson where an inquiry is trying to figure out how a little girl fell through the cracks.