Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Still no CFS inquiry into child's death

Five years after Phoenix Sinclair died alone in a basement after repeated beatings, the province is no closer to a public inquiry into the child's death.
That's because Sinclair's mother, Samantha Kematch, appears likely to appeal her first-degree murder conviction to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Justice for Phoenix

June 2005: Phoenix Sinclair, 5, dies in a cold, dark basement where she was frequently beaten and forced to sleep on the floor naked. It's believed she died on or around June 11.
March 2006: Phoenix's body is discovered near the garbage dump on the Fisher River First Nation. Phoenix's mother and stepfather, Samantha Kematch and Karl McKay, are charged with first-degree murder even before the body is found. Phoenix's death touches off a years-long debate about the quality of the province's child welfare system.
October 2006: Then-premier Gary Doer announces a public inquiry will be held into Phoenix's death once the criminal proceedings are finished.
December 2008: Kematch and McKay are convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
October 2009: Manitoba Court of Appeal hears a request by the pair to downgrade their convictions to second-degree murder or manslaughter. They claim there is no proof Phoenix was confined to the basement. Under the Criminal Code, someone is deemed to have committed first-degree murder instead of second-degree murder or manslaughter if forcible confinement is involved.
March 2010: In an unanimous decision, the appeals court upholds the first-degree murder convictions against Kematch and McKay.
May 2010: Kematch asks the Supreme Court of Canada for an extension of time to file a leave to appeal. The court agrees. A request for leave to appeal is due by July 27.
Late last month, Canada's highest court granted Kematch a 60-day extension to file an appeal, giving her until the end of July.
"Whether she appeals or not is still a matter to be resolved with Legal Aid. That is the reason for the delay as well," said Leonard Tailleur, Kematch's lawyer and a senior attorney at Legal Aid Manitoba.
Phoenix died five years ago this week and Kematch, along with her then-boyfriend Karl McKay, were convicted of neglecting, confining and repeatedly beating her. The girl's stepbrothers testified she was often hit, choked, shot with a BB gun and forced to spend days and nights lying naked in the basement of the family's home on the Fisher River First Nation north of Winnipeg. There was also testimony she was forced to eat her own vomit.
Experts told court the girl suffered repeated injuries over a long period of time and had broken bones all the way from her pelvis to her skull.
Phoenix had been in and out of care and her death highlighted failures in the province's fractured child welfare system. Three months before Phoenix's death, a tip prompted a social worker to visit Phoenix's home, but the worker left without ever laying eyes on the child.
After Phoenix's body was found, then-premier Gary Doer agreed to call a public inquiry to determine how the child welfare system failed to keep track of her whereabouts or protect her.
"The public has a right to know how a child could go missing for nine months without it being noticed," said Doer in a 2006 press release.
Even though the inquiry's terms of reference and a shortlist of possible commissioners are already drafted, the province says it can't begin the inquiry until Kematch and McKay have exhausted their appeals. The province says it doesn't want to jeopardize the criminal case against the two.
But critics say it's unlikely the Supreme Court justices, cloistered in Ottawa, would be influenced by an inquiry 1,700 kilometres away, even if it produced new facts. And, the Supreme Court tends to consider only errors of law and rarely retries the facts of a case.
"My sense is the government is trying to delay an inquiry to push it beyond an election window," said Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen.
The inquiry is expected to delve into the failures of the province's child welfare system to determine how Phoenix fell through the cracks. McFadyen said the NDP won't want that laid bare in the months before the 2011 election.

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