WINNIPEG – The Manitoba government is coming under fire for waiting until two byelections are held before releasing a final report into how social services failed a five-year-old girl who was murdered by her mother and stepfather.
For almost two years, a public inquiry examined the horrific death of Phoenix Sinclair, who bounced in and out of foster care before she was murdered in 2005. Commissioner Ted Hughes was tasked with determining why the little girl slipped through the cracks and how her death went undiscovered for months.
He delivered his final report to the NDP government Dec. 15.
A government spokeswoman said the commission’s findings and recommendations won’t be made public until after two byelections Jan. 28. Angela Jamieson said a ban on government announcements during byelection campaigns prevents release of the commissioner’s final report.
“Announcing or releasing a major report would be considered a significant publication, and would generate enormous interest in the provincial government’s activities and future plans,” she said in an emailed statement. “This action would be contrary to the spirit of the legislation.”
Attorney General Andrew Swan declined to be interviewed. The government won’t say when the report will be made public.
Lawyer Jeff Gindin, who represented Sinclair’s father and foster mother at the inquiry, said the government’s interpretation of the law is startling.
“The idea that a byelection in Morris or Virden should outweigh the interests of the public generally and, particularly, the people who raised Phoenix Sinclair — Kim Edwards and Steve Sinclair — and their interests in finally finding out what’s going to happen is mind-boggling,” Gindin said.
Reading the section of the act cited by the government, Gindin said the province could equally argue the commission’s final report isn’t covered by the law. There are several exceptions — including one relating to matters of public safety — that would apply to the report, he suggested.
At the very least, the government’s decision to sit on the report is suspicious, Gindin said.
“Are they concerned that there will be some bad publicity before a byelection?” he asked. “I think it’s pretty safe to say the government will be criticized in this report. It was fairly clear that lots of things were done improperly and should have been done differently.”
Phoenix was killed by her mother, Samantha Kematch, and the woman’s boyfriend, Karl McKay, after repeated and horrific abuse. Both were convicted of first-degree murder in 2008.
The pair tortured and beat Phoenix over many months before she died of extensive injuries on a cold basement floor in the couple’s home on the Fisher River reserve. She was buried in a shallow grave near the community dump and Kematch continued to collect child subsidy cheques.
The inquiry heard that authorities had been contacted with allegations that Phoenix was being abused shortly before her death. A social worker visited Kematch, but left without seeing Phoenix and closed the child’s file.
The girl was murdered three months later.
The inquiry, one of the most expensive in Manitoba’s history, heard from 126 witnesses and is estimated to have cost at least $10 million.