Phoenix Inquiry hears emotional testimony from foster father who was reluctant to hand child over to mother
Published Thursday, December 6, 2012 12:31PM CST
Last Updated Friday, December 7, 2012 7:44AM CST
The Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry heard emotional testimony from the man who raised Phoenix for most of her short life, Thursday.
Ron Stephenson, Phoenix's foster father, broke down while testifying Phoenix was a “beautiful, amazing” child.
Stephenson, a friend of Phoenix’s parents Steve Sinclair and Samantha Kematch, testified Phoenix spent a lot of time with his family during her short life, including a brief period while he was her foster parent. Stephenson told the inquiry he met Phoenix when she was just a few months old and by the time she was a toddler, “She was part of the family.”
Stephenson said he and his ex-wife Kim Edwards would take care of Phoenix whenever Sinclair or Kematch dropped her off. He wasn’t sure if or when either parent would return but was happy to have Phoenix in the home, the inquiry heard.
The inquiry, now in its first stage, is looking into the circumstances surrounding Phoenix’s life and death. Phoenix was in and out of foster care throughout her life before being killed at age five on the Fisher River Cree Nation in 2005. Kematch and her boyfriend Karl McKay were found guilty of first-degree murder in her death in 2008.
Foster father didn’t trust system, just wanted safe home for Phoenix
Stephenson took over as Phoenix's primary caregiver iIn 2003, when Steve Sinclair was having problems with drinking and Phoenix was apprehended. Stephenson offered to be a foster father for her, the inquiry heard.
“We just didn’t want her to go to some foster home. We just wanted to keep her,” said Stephenson. “My place was definitely the ideal place for Phoenix.”
Stephenson and his ex-wife, Kim Edwards, became Phoenix’s foster parents, and three-year-old Phoenix lived primarily with Stephenson and his three children.
Stephenson said he was happy to care for Phoenix and social workers noted at the time he was not concerned about receiving money from CFS and would keep Phoenix as “long as necessary.”
Stephenson broke down while describing Phoenix. “She was fun and beautiful. She was incredible,” he said through tears.
Months after getting official custody of Phoenix, Stephenson and Edwards applied for a license to formally become a foster home where Phoenix could stay. But Stephenson said those formalities were meaningless to him, and Sinclair could take of her whenever he wanted.
“All this stuff assumed we respected the system and the rules, and we didn’t,” Stephenson said.
“(Sinclair) came by lots of times. He took her lots of times,” said Stephenson. “It didn’t matter what paper was signed or what order was given, it was all just the same.”
The same, according to Stephenson, was that Phoenix had a safe home with him and his children for as long as she needed.
CFS workers contacted Stephenson in early 2004 saying Sinclair should not be allowed to take Phoenix. Stephenson said the letter was meaningless to him.
Foster father reluctant to hand Phoenix over to her mother
Stephenson said neither birth parent visited often, but Kematch showed up in mid-April 2004, just before Phoenix’s fourth birthday.
“Sam (Kematch) showed up with Bertha, Bertha being her mother, and wanted to take Phoenix,” said Stephenson.
“Sam didn’t actually seem that enthusiastic about the whole thing, but it was Bertha that was saying, ‘We want to raise our own kids and all this stuff.’ ”
Stephenson said he had no idea it would be the last time he would ever see Phoenix.
“I assumed they would take her and Sam would get sick of her in two days and take her back,” he said.
He said he never would have let Phoenix go if he thought he wouldn’t get her back within a matter of days.
“I was reluctant, but I was also exhausted and Phoenix wanted to go.” Stephenson was working full-time and raising four children on his own at the time. “So I let her go.”
Stephenson testified that if Kematch had not shown up that day, he was prepared to parent Phoenix indefinitely.
Phoenix was brutally murdered just over a year later by Kematch and her boyfriend McKay.
Police transcript details foster father’s emotional questioning about Phoenix’s disappearance
In March 2006, Winnipeg police contacted Stephenson about Phoenix being missing, the inquiry heard. Kris Saxberg, the lawyer for a number of CFS agencies, asked Stephenson about the questioning.
A police report transcript showed Stephenson broke down, telling police, “She showed up here, and I really didn’t know what else to do because that’s her mom, so I just let her take her.”
He continued, crying, “And I haven’t heard or seen from her since. I tried to contact her mom and stuff, and she just tried to avoid me and stuff.”
Stephenson would go on to tell police he heard rumors after Kematch took Phoenix that she would abuse Phoenix, locking her in rooms, depriving her of food and slapping her when she spoke.
He said to police at the time, through tears, “Oh man. I feel so bad if anything happened to her. I never should have given her to Sam.”
Phoenix’s body was discovered on the Fisher River Cree Nation a short time after.