Phoenix Sinclair inquiry delayed indefinitely, judge rules
Murder victim Phoenix Sinclair. (File Photo)
WINNIPEG - The Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry, underway just three days, is facing yet another lengthy delay.
The Manitoba Court of Appeal has ruled a group of four Child and Family Services authorities should be allowed a chance to argue its case for accessing transcripts of dozens of pre-interviews inquiry staff conducted with prospective witnesses.
"I have concluded that the applicants have satisfied the requirement to show that the matter ... is of sufficient importance to warrant a review by a panel of this court and has a reasonable chance of success," Justice Marc Monnin wrote in a 21-page decision released Friday afternoon.
The inquiry is suspended pending a Court of Appeal hearing of the matter, which will occur no earlier than next month.
Lead inquiry counsel Sherri Walsh told media on Friday that she's disappointed with the delay.
"I was very pleased to get started and I'm disappointed to stop," she said.
Jeff Gindin, lawyer for Phoenix's biological father Steve Sinclair and her longtime foster mother Kim Edwards, said he wants to read the documents in his spare time to move the inquiry along.
"We all hope this goes quickly," he told QMI Agency. "We didn't want there to be any delays, so we were quite happy to proceed without (the transcripts), but it would be nice to have them."
Monnin said the adjournment is "regrettable, but, in my view, necessary."
Inquiry Commissioner Ted Hughes denied the CFS authorities access to the transcripts Aug. 1 after agreeing with Walsh they are internal records not meant to be disclosed under established inquiry rules.
The 12,000 pages of verbatim transcripts -- created from audio recordings of the interviews -- were used to author summaries of anticipated evidence. The summaries are being shared with lawyers and parties with standing at the inquiry.
The interviews were not conducted under oath, and interviewees were assured the full records wouldn't be shared.
In the beginning, inquiry staff were enlisted to take notes of the witness pre-interviews. When that proved too difficult, the interviews were recorded and transcribed.
The CFS groups argue "procedural fairness" demands that the full transcripts be shared with all parties.
"In my view, the applicants have raised an issue which is one of importance," Monnin said. "Consequences of not dealing with the issue at this time open the inquiry's work to potential challenge at a later time."
In June 2005, five-year-old Phoenix was murdered by Samantha Kematch and her common-law husband Karl McKay after suffering bouts of brutal abuse. They have since been convicted for the murder. The little girl had only been returned to Kematch months before.
The inquiry is geared to examine how Phoenix disappeared in the child welfare system.
-- With files from Tamara King