The public inquiry looking into the death of Phoenix Sinclair heard some disturbing details Wednesday about a time when the little girl had a foreign object lodged in her nose for three months.
As the inquiry resumed on Wednesday, social worker Laura Forrest testified she first encountered the child's file in late February 2003, when Phoenix was placed back into care.
Phoenix Sinclair inquiry blog
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The girl, who was two years old at the time, had been taken to hospital by someone, who would only identify himself as a "godfather," because something had been lodged in her nose for three months.
Doctors removed a foul-smelling object from her nose, which was filled with pus, and prescribed antibiotics for her.
But there were concerns of medical neglect and fears that her antibiotics wouldn't be administered properly, so Phoenix was referred to the intake unit of Winnipeg Child and Family Services (CFS).
Forrest testified that the unit was overworked at the time, with case workers juggling as many as 40 cases at a time, and often required help from other CFS units to manage.
Tried to meet girl, father
The Child Protection Centre had recommended that social workers intervene in Phoenix's case, given concerns about the object lodged inside her nose, but Forrest said she was not overly worried at the time.
"How that came to be with a toddler, I'm not 100 per cent certain," Forrest testified on Wednesday.
"It's not unusual for that to happen with little kids…. There wasn't any other information to support concerns about her well-being."
Forrest said she went to the home of Phoenix's biological father, Steve Sinclair, five times in a three-month period in an effort to meet the girl.
But she never found Phoenix there, she said, adding that she saw Sinclair only once.
"I know I did not meet her before she came into care, but I do not honestly recall if I saw her in her placement," Forrest said.
"I could've seen her during the case transition and maybe didn't include a note, but I honestly do not remember meeting her."
One report, Forrest noted that Steve Sinclair had a black eye on the one occasion that he did open the door, but she testified that she still did not think Phoenix was at risk.
"I'm not going to apprehend their children because they have a black eye," she told the inquiry.
"Sometimes my regret is that I even noted that in there. I don't know that it was relevant to how he could parent Phoenix."
Forrest defended her attempts to locate Phoenix, saying she did the best she could.
Inquiry moves back to 2000
Also on Wednesday, the inquiry moved back in time to 2000 to hear from an advocate who worked with Steve Sinclair and Samantha Kematch, Phoenix's biological mother, when the couple first tried to regain custody of their daughter.
Nikki Humenchuk, a former supervisor at the Boys and Girls Club, testified that the couple came to the club three to four times a week when they were together, in part to enroll at a program to regain custody of Phoenix.
But Sinclair and Kematch split up in June 2001, just months after Kematch had given birth to their second daughter.
The inquiry heard that Kematch had taken up again with a previous partner, and the split with Sinclair was bitter, with allegations of violence being made on both sides.
When their infant daughter, Echo, died from a respiratory infection in July 2001, police had to be called to the funeral home where the child's body was being viewed, and different visiting hours were assigned to each side of the family, the inquiry was told.
Caught in the middle of the dispute was Phoenix, who was one year old at the time. Her CFS file would soon be closed — and Sinclair named her primary caregiver — until the hospital incident in 2003.
Phoenix died in 2005
The inquiry originally had planned to run through all witnesses in chronological order. But after the Court of Appeal delayed proceedings in September, witnesses are now appearing at different points in the timeline.
Phoenix only lived to be five years old, spending her life in and out of foster care before she died in 2005 — shortly after she was once again returned to Kematch, who was then living with Karl McKay.
It was not until nine months later that Phoenix's body was found, wrapped in plastic, in an unmarked shallow grave near the landfill on Fisher River First Nation.
Kematch and McKay were convicted in 2008 of first-degree murder in the girl's death.
According to evidence presented at the trial, Phoenix was frequently neglected, confined, shot with a BB gun, and forced to eat her own vomit.
The inquiry is looking at how Manitoba's child and family services officials handled Phoenix's case.