Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry concludes first day of testimony
Seven years have passed since Phoenix Sinclair was murdered and hidden in a shallow grave in Manitoba.
On Wednesday, the inquiry into her death finally began in Winnipeg. It’s the first time a public inquiry on the child welfare system has been held in Manitoba.
Commission counsel officially opened the inquiry into the death of Sinclair Wednesday morning with photographs of the young girl.
The photos submitted into evidence showed Sinclair as a happy and healthy child as the hearing to examine her death got underway.
“These photographs are a small step to maintaining Phoenix’s visibility throughout these proceedings,” said commission counsel Sherri Walsh.
Five-year-old Sinclair was killed in the basement of a home on Fisher River First Nation in 2005, and her body disposed of by her mother, Samantha Keematch, and her mother’s boyfriend, Karl McKay.
Before Sinclair’s death she was repeatedly beaten, sometimes with a metal rod. She was at times forced to eat her own vomit and left in the unheated basement of the home.
Sinclair died after a particularly brutal attack and buried in a shallow grave near a garbage dump.
She wasn't discovered missing until nine months after her death.
Keematch and McKay have both been convicted of first-degree murder in Sinclair’s death.
“How is it that in our society, a small child can become so invisible – invisible to an entire community?” asked Walsh.
When Sinclair died she was under the supervision of Manitoba Child and Family Services. She had been returned to her mother’s care in 2004 and was to be visited by social workers.
Walsh opened Wednesday’s proceedings with a promise to find out how it was that Sinclair’s death could have gone unnoticed for nine months.
The inquiry is to examine what assistance the family was receiving from Child and Family Services, what factors played a role in the child’s death and why it took months to discover she was missing.
“How did we lose track of a child such that she was able to be murdered and such that her death went undiscovered for nine months?” asked Walsh. Walsh said those questions would be the “central theme” of the inquiry.
Walsh said the inquiry will look at Sinclair’s life, from the time she was born to the time her death was discovered.
The inquiry will be held in three phases and is expected to last six months.
Manitoba CFS is expected to be at the centre of the inquiry. CFS was tasked with Phoenix’s care from the time she was born until her death five years later.
The first phase of the inquiry will focus on witness testimony, examining Phoenix’s life and the events leading up to her murder.
The second phase will review reports and recommendations made after her death.
Finally, the commission will delve into broader social issues, like why of the more than 9,000 children in care in Manitoba, 8,000 are aboriginal.
The first witness, Alana Brownlee, the current CEO of Winnipeg Child and Family Services, was called Wednesday.
“The change in the legislation in June 2008 placed safety and security as the primary consideration,” said Brownlee.
Brownlee has held the position since 2011, and her testimony mainly explained procedure and practices at CFS.
Inquiry hearings are scheduled four days a week at the Winnipeg Convention Centre.
Sinclair’s killers, Keematch and McKay, will not testify at the inquiry. Both are currently serving life sentences for Sinclair’s murder and declined the opportunity to testify.