|A Wednesday, March15, 2006 picture of murder victim Phoenix Sinclair. (Handout)
WINNIPEG - The long-awaited resumption of a public inquiry Wednesday into potential connections between Manitoba's child-welfare system and the horrific death of a little girl at her caregivers' hands kicked off with a plea from the man charged with leading it.
"We must be mindful of why we are here," Phoenix Sinclair inquiry commissioner Ted Hughes warned prior to the start of witness testimony after a delay of more than two months prompted by a court challenge over his decision-making powers.
"The centrepiece of our work, as a lasting memorial to the short life of little Phoenix Sinclair, is the protection of all children, particularly the most vulnerable of them throughout this province."
The inquiry continues to probe the circumstances of Phoenix's first apprehension by the now-defunct Winnipeg Child and Family Services (CFS) agency starting April 24, 2000, just after the girl's birth.
A key focus of Wednesday's hearings was on the girl's biological mother, Samantha Kematch, who already had another child apprehended by CFS before getting pregnant with Phoenix.
She appeared "ambivalent" at the prospect of parenting the little girl when she arrived, the inquiry has heard.
Kematch and her former boyfriend, Karl McKay, are serving prison terms after being convicted in 2008 of first-degree murder in Phoenix's 2005 killing at a home on Fisher River First Nation.
In May 2000, she and Phoenix's father, Steve Sinclair, consented to keep Phoenix in CFS care for three months. Part of a seven-step plan to get the child back included provisions that Kematch undergo a psychological assessment and that she and Sinclair attend parenting classes, which she did.
Supervising social worker Andrew Orobko said the hope was if the parents followed through and showed "parental capacity, parental motivation," they would be able to regain custody. Phoenix was reunited with Kematch in September 2000.
Social worker Kerri-Lynn Greeley authored a report on the case in October 2000 before handing off her file to another worker. She testified CFS didn't require Kematch and Sinclair to undergo a full parental assessment with a psychologist.
"I can't remember why we didn't consider (it)," she said.