Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry report will be public in January

The public will have to wait until the new year to hear recommendations from one of the most expensive inquiries in Manitoba's history.

Manitoba won't release inquiry's final report into child's death until new year

The public will have to wait until the new year to hear recommendations from an inquiry into how Manitoba child welfare failed a five-year-old girl who was murdered by her mother and stepfather.

Off and on for two years, the inquiry heard about the case of Phoenix Sinclair, who bounced in and out of foster care before she was killed in 2005.

Commissioner Ted Hughes must determine why the little girl slipped through the cracks and how her death went undiscovered for months.

The inquiry, one of the most expensive in Manitoba's history, heard from 126 witnesses and is estimated to have cost at least $10 million.

Commission counsel Sherri Walsh said Hughes is on track to deliver his final report to the government Dec. 15.

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Andrew Swan said the government will take time to digest the report and its recommendations.

"As is common with similar reports, the government will require time to review the information," spokeswoman Sally Housser said in an emailed statement. "The report will be released in the new year."

Swan was not available for an interview, she said.

Phoenix was killed by her mother, Samantha Kematch, and her stepfather, Karl McKay, after repeated and horrific abuse. Both were convicted of first-degree murder in 2008.

The pair neglected, confined, tortured and beat Phoenix. She died of extensive injuries on a cold basement floor of the couple's home on the Fisher River reserve in 2005. She was buried in a shallow grave at the community dump, while Kematch continued to collect child subsidy cheques.

The inquiry heard that authorities had been contacted with allegations that Phoenix was being abused shortly before her death. A social worker visited Kematch, but left without going into the apartment to see whether Phoenix was OK and closed the child's file.

The girl was murdered three months later.

Manitoba has almost 10,000 children in care, among the highest in the country. The vast majority of them are aboriginal.

The delay in making the inquiry's findings public is raising some concern.

Kim Edwards, who was for a time Phoenix's foster mother and was called "nana-mom" by the girl, said she expects to get a copy of the final report at the same time as the province. Edwards said she feels she is entitled to see it right away, as someone who had full standing at the inquiry. She said she also fears the province may try to put its own spin on it.

Edwards, who camped outside the legislature in protest for 78 days earlier this year, said she will fight hard for the report as soon as it is complete.

"I had better get a copy when everybody else does," she said. "There will be a lot of protesting."

Leanne Rowat, the child and family services critic for the Opposition Conservatives, suggested damage control could be behind the delay.

"It appears that they are more concerned about their own response than they are about the reasons why Phoenix Sinclair died and was not found for several months after her death," she said.

"This should have been about Phoenix Sinclair."

Walsh said the report will focus on Phoenix and on ways to prevent the same thing from happening again.

"The report will be very comprehensive and very, very helpful to the whole province," she said.