Phoenix Sinclair inquiry focuses on Karl McKay's rage

The inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair heard violent details on Tuesday about the man who killed her.
Phoenix Sinclair was beaten, neglected and eventually killed in June 2005, at the age of five. (Phoenix Sinclair inquiry)

The inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair heard violent details on Tuesday about the man who killed her.

Karl McKay was convicted in 2008 of murdering the five-year-old girl. His girlfriend — Phoenix's biological mother, Samantha Kematch — was also convicted of first-degree murder, and both were sentenced to life in prison.

Although Phoenix died in 2005, her body wasn't found until the following year on the Fisher River First Nation, wrapped in plastic in an unmarked shallow grave near the community landfill.

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Ashley Roulette, McKay's niece, told the inquiry on Tuesday that when she was growing up her uncle was aggressive and not afraid to raise his hand to anyone, especially women and children.

It was well known within the family that he was violent towards women, she said, adding that she was on the receiving end of McKay's fury when she was a teenager.

McKay punched her in the face and gave her two black eyes, she said.

Under cross-examination, Roulette was repeatedly asked why she didn't report McKay, or her concerns about Phoenix's safety, to Child and Family Services officials.

"I was 15," she told the inquiry. "I was just a kid."

There were adults around, people way older, who could have called, she added.

Phoenix called names, abused

Another one of McKay's nieces did call CFS, but she said the agency did not make it easy for her to report anything.

Lisa Marie Bruce testified that she was asked to give her age, which was 17 at the time, and was then told she was too young to make a report — that she would need parental permission to proceed.

"I tried to phone … because my cousins were talking about her. So I tried to phone and they said that I was too young to be making a phone call to CFS. I wasn't 18 yet," she said.

Bruce, now 25, told the inquiry that she used to babysit Phoenix. She said the girl "behaved good," was talkative and never caused trouble. She also said she didn't witness any violence toward the girl.

But after the birth of Kematch and McKay's first child together, things changed. It was like Kematch and McKay pushed Phoenix aside and the girl became withdrawn, bruised and skinny, Bruce said.

Kematch and McKay began treating Phoenix terribly, she added, noting how McKay once ripped Phoenix's hat off her head and "it looked like he got some of her hair."

As well, Kematch pushed Phoenix to the ground and called her a "slut" and other names, Bruce recalled.

"She started calling her down more — even in front of, like, everybody — calling her, like, a little whore or a little bitch," Bruce told the inquiry.

Bruce said she was also concerned because there was a lock on the outside of Phoenix's bedroom door, and she believed the girl was sometimes locked inside.

The Phoenix Sinclair inquiry, which has been ongoing since September but halted on occasion for breaks, is trying determine how the child welfare system failed the little girl and how her murder went undetected for more than half a year.

Phoenix had spent much of her life in foster care or with family friends in Winnipeg. The inquiry has already heard that social workers sometimes lost track of who had care of the girl, failed to monitor the family and closed Phoenix's file without seeing her.

Therapist told of Phoenix's death

Kematch and McKay moved to the Fisher River First Nation in the spring of 2005. They neglected and abused Phoenix before a final deadly assault in June of that year.

They buried her near the Fisher River landfill and continued to collect welfare benefits, with Phoenix listed as a dependent.

Grant Wiebe, a therapist with Macdonald Youth Services, testified on Tuesday afternoon that McKay's son and the boy's mother told him about Phoenix's death in November 2005.

Wiebe said he counselled McKay's son after the boy's mother raised concerns about his behaviour.

The boy had witnessed Phoenix's death and shared the secret with his mother, Wiebe told the inquiry.

According to Wiebe's notes, the mother was unclear about the timeline of events, but she contacted Child and Family Services officials with allegations of abuse.

The mother also contacted RCMP because she feared Phoenix's body was in a dumpster on the First Nation, the inquiry was told.

Wiebe said at that point, he had only dealt with the mother to make sure the family had the support it needed.

Inquiry lawyer Sherri Walsh asked Wiebe if he had contacted CFS authorities to report what he was told about Phoenix.

"No, I did not," Wiebe said.

When asked why not, he replied, "I did not believe I had further information to add beyond what had been reported already, and I believe the information that had been provided to CFS had been investigated."

With files from the CBC's Katie Nicholson and Catherine Dulude