Phoenix Sinclair inquiry looks at last year of girl's life

The inquiry into Phoenix Sinclair's death resumed Monday morning, examining events that took place in the last year of the girl's life.
Public inquiry into the 2005 death of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair resumes with testimony from a former CFS social worker regarding the final year of the child's life. 1:59

The inquiry into Phoenix Sinclair's death resumed Monday morning, examining events that took place in the last year of the girl's life.

She was beaten to death in 2005, at the age of five, after spending much of her life in and out of Manitoba's child welfare system.

Her body wasn't found until March 2006 — nine months later — wrapped in plastic in an unmarked shallow grave near the landfill on the Fisher River First Nation.

Inquiry blog

Read the latest entry from the CBC's Katie Nicholson, who is covering the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry:

Phoenix's mother, Samantha Kematch, and Kematch's boyfriend Karl McKay were convicted in 2008 of first-degree murder in connection to the death.

The inquiry, which has heard how Kematch continued to collect benefits for Phoenix long after her death, is looking at how CFS officials handled the girl's case and why her death went undiscovered for months.

The first witness on Monday was social worker Shelley Willox, who encountered Phoenix in December 2004 when Kematch gave birth to another child.

Willox was working in the crisis response unit of Winnipeg Child and Family Services (CFS) when she was asked to look into Kematch, who had recently regained custody of Phoenix and moved in with McKay, her new boyfriend.

Contacted Kematch's nurse

Willox said she recommended that CFS follow up with Kematch, based on the woman's past history with the agency.

After trying unsuccessfully to contact Kematch at home, Willox said she contacted her public health nurse.

The nurse raised no concerns about Kematch or her ability to care for Phoenix, so Willox said she closed the file — without ever speaking with Kematch directly or coming into contact with Phoenix.

"If the agency had released any information from any source that would have identified a child protection concern, then I would have kept the file open," Willox told the inquiry.

Willox also testified about a lack of training at the child welfare agency and a period of chaos during the devolution process — a massive reorganization with many files on aboriginal children being transferred from the main office to First Nations-run umbrella CFS agencies.

Background check not done on McKay

Willox, whose testimony echoes much of what has been said by previous CFS workers, also noted that a background check was not done on McKay when assessing the home situation for Phoenix.

Checking out new partners was not part of CFS policy, she said.

"At that point in time, our primary focus was focusing on the female or the biological mother in the household as the primary caregiver," Willox said.

"There wasn't as much weight at that time being placed on partners or other adult family members living in the family home as for completing a prior child welfare history or review."

The inquiry has previously heard that had a system search been done on McKay, it would have revealed multiple files detailing violent incidents and substance abuse.

Instead, McKay and Kematch took Phoenix and moved from Winnipeg to Fisher River First Nation, about 150 kilometres north of the city.

A year later, Phoenix was dead. 

The inquiry, which was on break over the Christmas holidays, is expected to run until late April or May.