Manitoba releasing inquiry report into how murdered girl slipped through cracks - InfoNews

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Manitoba releasing inquiry report into how murdered girl slipped through cracks

Phoenix Sinclair is shown in a family photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
January 31, 2014 - 1:00 AM

WINNIPEG - Manitoba is set to release a long-awaited report into how the province's social services failed a murdered five-year-old girl during her short life.

The inquiry report by Commissioner Ted Hughes into Phoenix Sinclair's death is expected this morning.

The report was delivered Dec. 15, but officials said its recommendations couldn't be released until after a "thorough review by the government."

The government also cited a provincial law that prevents making announcements during a byelection campaign. Votes in two constituencies were held earlier this week.

Hughes spent almost two years examining the death of Phoenix, who bounced in and out of foster care before her death in 2005. She 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 ultimately died of her extensive injuries on the cold basement floor of the couple's home on the Fisher River reserve. She was buried in a shallow grave by the community dump and Kematch continued to collect child subsidy cheques before anyone noticed the girl's absence.

The inquiry was tasked with determining why Phoenix slipped through the cracks and how her death went undiscovered for months. The inquiry sat for 91 days and heard testimony from 126 witnesses. The province says the final report is more than 1,000 pages long.

The union representing social workers argued they didn't have a "crystal ball" and couldn't have foreseen Phoenix's death, but the girl's foster mother and biological father said her death was preventable.

Phoenix was taken by Child and Family Services at least twice during her life — once at birth and again three years later — but she was returned to her mother each time.

When authorities were contacted shortly before the girl's death about allegations she was being abused, a social worker visited Kematch and left without going into the apartment or seeing if Phoenix was OK.

Her file was closed. Three months later, she was dead.

Kim Edwards, the foster mother Phoenix called "nana-mom," made a tearful final submission to the inquiry and told Hughes "the time for excuses must end with your report." Phoenix's death must not be in vain, she said.

The province and welfare organizations argued the case has already vastly improved child welfare in Manitoba.

The General Child and Family Services Authority said there were six extensive reviews and numerous recommendations made after the little girl was killed. The authority said there are fewer children coming into care now and it is far less probable a similar death will occur again.

The province said funding for child welfare has tripled between 2002 and 2012 and the number of frontline workers has increased.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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