|Murder victim Phoenix Sinclair. (File Photo)
WINNIPEG -- A veteran Manitoba Child and Family Services worker says she faces extreme workplace backlash if Manitoba’s highest court agrees to make public a full transcript of an interview she took part in with lawyers in advance of her testimony at the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry.
“I fear what will happen to me,” Debbie De Gale states in a sworn statement recently filed with the Manitoba Court of Appeal. “I believe that certain co-workers and management from CFS will be upset with me and may react negatively to me, based on what I shared becoming public,” De Gale said.
Tuesday, Justice Marc Monnin granted De Gale the right to present a written case for the court’s consideration. She hopes to keep her pre-interview transcript confidential and available only as a privileged internal document for use and reference by inquiry lawyers.
A group of four CFS authorities and others are battling to see about 12,000 pages of transcripts disclosed and are challenging inquiry Commissioner Ted Hughes’s Aug. 1 decision to deny them access. Hughes ruled the transcripts were only created to assist inquiry lawyers in preparing so-called will-say summaries of anticipated witness testimony. The interviews were not conducted under oath.
The court agreed to hear the CFS group’s case on Sept. 7, putting the kibosh on public testimony at the already-delayed inquiry after 2 1/2 days of public hearings. An appeals court panel will hear arguments Oct. 9, but it’s unclear when the inquiry will actually resume.
De Gale says she anxiously, but willingly, told inquiry lawyers Derek Olson and Sherri Walsh the truth about her work at Winnipeg CFS and her knowledge of Phoenix’s case in her pre-interview. She has worked for the city child-welfare agency since 1997.
Key to her case is how she spoke freely after being assured the “word for word” record would remain private.
Essentially, a deal’s a deal, she says.
“I feel that if the transcripts are now disclosed after I was provided the assurances, it is like I was tricked into sharing openly and freely at my interview,” De Gale states. “Had I known that the transcript from my interview would ultimately be disclosed, I would have chosen to share far less than I did,” she said.
De Gale, a social worker since 1986, states her pre-interview was conducted over two days -- broken up by Olson and Walsh, she says, to allow her to hire a lawyer part-way through. The reason, she was told, was because “some of the statements I had made contradicted information provided by other witnesses during their interviews,” she said.
The inquiry’s first phase will examine the services Phoenix Sinclair did or didn’t receive from CFS, other circumstances directly related to her 2005 murder at a home on the Fisher River First Nation and why it went undiscovered for months. She was a ward of Child and Family Services for much of her short life, but was not in care when she died.
Phoenix’s mother, Samantha Kematch and her boyfriend, Karl McKay, were convicted in 2008 of first-degree murder for Sinclair’s killing.