Phoenix Sinclair's dad weeps during inquiry testimony

Phoenix Sinclair's biological father, Steve Sinclair, wept during his testimony on Wednesday into the death of his five-year-old daughter in 2005.
Biological father of Phoenix Sinclair testifies at public inquiry into the five-year-old girl's death. 2:29

Phoenix Sinclair's biological father, Steve Sinclair, wept during his testimony on Wednesday into the death of his five-year-old daughter.

The inquiry, which has been going since mid-November after a two-month delay due to legal wrangling, has heard the girl was in Steve Sinclair's custody in late 2003.

Inquiry blog

Read the latest blog entries from the CBC's Sean Kavanagh, who is covering the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry this week:

But a Winnipeg Child and Family Services (CFS) worker testified Tuesday that concerns over his drinking and apparent disinterest in taking care of Phoenix meant that she was left to stay with her godparents.

Sinclair testified on Wednesday that while he liked to drink and party, he always made sure his daughter was safe.

Sinclair said if he was partying, the little girl would stay with Kim Edwards, a trusted friend and Phoenix's godmother, or with his sister.

Phoenix only lived to be five years old, spending her life in and out of foster care before she died in 2005, shortly after being returned to Samantha Kematch, her biological mother.

It was not until nine months later, in March 2006, that Phoenix's body was found, wrapped in plastic, in an unmarked shallow grave near the local landfill on the Fisher River First Nation.

Kematch and her partner, Karl McKay, were convicted in 2008 of first-degree murder in connection to Phoenix's death.

The inquiry is looking at how CFS officials handled Phoenix's case and why her death in went undiscovered for months.

Sinclair cried as inquiry counsel Sherri Walsh read aloud his victim impact statement from Kematch's murder trial.

"You say you want the record to show that she was loved by you, that you always wanted Phoenix and she was never a burden of any kind to you," Walsh said to Sinclair.

"Yeah," he said, sobbing.

Role models came from TV

As Sinclair's testimony got underway, Walsh asked him if he had any parenting role models when he was growing up.

Phoenix, seen in an undated photograph, was killed by her biological mother, Samantha Kematch, and stepfather Karl McKay in 2005. Kematch and McKay were convicted of murder in 2008. (Phoenix Sinclair inquiry)

Sighing, he replied, "Television?"

Walsh asked Sinclair if he was referring to parents he saw on television.

"Yeah. Wanted to be like them, right?" he said, before pausing for a moment.

"Wanted to have a family like them."

Sinclair said he had no father around and his mother was a residential school survivor. The inquiry has heard that he was placed in the CFS system when he was young.

Now 32 years old, Sinclair said he was 19 when he and Kematch — whom he had met at school — had Phoenix on April 23, 2000.

Sinclair testified that a CFS worker came to see them and the newborn in the hospital and noted that "the couple was unsure of their ability to parent."

According to Sinclair, he and Kematch were asked if baby Phoenix could be taken into care until they were ready to parent, but the CFS worker changed his mind after a few minutes.

Phoenix was still taken into CFS care, the inquiry was told.

Quiet baby

Sinclair testified that he started visiting Phoenix — a quiet baby who liked to explore, he recalled — almost as soon as she was apprehended, and he attended parenting programs before and after the girl was born.

Sinclair said he wanted Phoenix to avoid the experience he had growing up.

Phoenix was returned to Sinclair and Kematch in the fall of 2000, but the parents had to sign a CFS service agreement that called for regular visits from a social worker.

A family support worker had reported visiting their home "about 40 times," inquiry lawyer Gord McKinnon said. However, Sinclair disputed that claim.

Sinclair said he also doesn't remember seeing Delores Chief-Abigosis, a social worker who testified that she visited their home in February 2001. He said Chief-Abigosis was not much help to him.

The inquiry has heard that Sinclair and Kematch split up later in 2001, following the birth of their second daughter, Echo. Phoenix was one year old at the time.

Sinclair said he kicked Kematch out because he didn't believe she could care for Phoenix or Echo.

However, he said he was OK with Kematch picking up Phoenix from Edwards's home in 2004.

"She was with her mother, you know. Her mother should know better than to … hurt her," he told the inquiry.

Sinclair said he then moved to Ontario, and he did not know Phoenix was missing until March 2006.

The inquiry adjourned by midday Wednesday, after Sinclair's testimony concluded. Hearings resume on Thursday.