Phoenix Sinclair inquiry commissioner says 'time has come' for progress report

The retired judge who led the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry says it's time for a report card on the implementation of his 62 recommendations.

‘Those 62 recommendations have been hanging out there for 3 years,' Ted Hughes says

Phoenix Sinclair was killed in June 2005 but it was not until nine months later that her body was found, wrapped in plastic, in an unmarked shallow grave near the Fisher River First Nation landfill. (Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry)

The retired judge who led the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry says it's time for a report card on the implementation of his 62 recommendations.

Ted Hughes, who led the $14-million public inquiry into how Manitoba's Child and Family Services system failed five-year-old Phoenix before she was murdered in 2005, says a recent report by the province's Children's Advocate shows there has not been significant change.

"The previous government said they would implement all the 62 recommendations I made. Whether that's the commitment of the current government, I don't know," Hughes said.

"Let's hear from them as to what progress is being made. If they're not going to implement some of them, say so, and identify which ones they are and what are their reasons for such a decision."

Last week, Manitoba Children's Advocate Darlene MacDonald released a status report, So Much Left to Do: Status Report on the 62 Recommendations from the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry, which describes actions that are completed, those that are underway and those not progressing.

Phoenix spent much of her life in CFS care but was routinely returned to her mother. The young girl experienced horrific abuse before dying in a cold basement on the Fisher River Cree Nation, about 175 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Her body was wrapped in plastic and buried in a shallow, unmarked grave near the reserve's garbage dump.

According to MacDonald's status report, as of Sept. 30, 2016, only 31 (50 per cent) of the recommendations are in progress, 18 (29 per cent) are considered by government to be complete and 13 (21 per cent) are pending. However, MacDonald disputed some of the progress and said there needed to be more action and more information.

Hughes said he was pleased to see MacDonald had made a report but added she "made it quite clear that this is not a report on the extent or adequacy of implementation."

"There are a number of them that are deemed to be complete by the advocate's report, 18 I think in all, but I think some further background has to be done to know the extent of the completeness," he said.

One example is the recommendation requiring social workers to be members of their professional college, which Hughes said "has not gone the full distance of my recommendation by any means, and yet it's called complete."

Hughes pointed to recommendation 55 — to provide long-term funding for community-based organizations and specifically Aboriginal-led organizations — and said there's no indication of what's being done, though it's marked "in progress." 

"In fairness to the advocate, she doesn't purport to be reporting on implementation, but somebody's got to do it and let the public know whether my recommendations are going to be implemented, or if they're being discarded," he said. "It is three years into this. The time has come."

Hughes was encouraged by the recent provincial throne speech — outlining priorities for the coming year — which talked about allowing the children's advocate to be more vocal in defending the rights of children and to release more information about the province's child welfare system.

"I recommended a series of powers the advocate should have," he said. "I'm hopeful a close look has been taken at my recommendations that deal with the powers."

Even with that legislative change, Hughes said he will not have confidence that there won't be another Phoenix Sinclair in Manitoba until he knows what is actually being done with his recommendations.

"Maybe some very positive steps have been taken along the way, but we don't have a report on implementation," he said. "And those 62 recommendations have been hanging out there for three years."