Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Media Lawyer Says Social Workers Shouldn't Avoid Scrutiny at Dead Girl Inquiry

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Media Lawyer Says Social Workers Shouldn't Avoid Scrutiny at Dead Girl Inquiry

Article excerpt

Media lawyer blasts ban for inquiry

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WINNIPEG - A lawyer for several media outlets says social workers involved in the life and death of a five-year-old Manitoba girl cannot be allowed to hide their identities.

Jonathan Kroft says a suggested publication ban would allow "an unaccountable group of anonymous civil servants" to avoid scrutiny.

Child welfare agencies and the social workers union are asking for a ban on the identities of workers who are to testify at an upcoming public inquiry into Phoenix Sinclair.

"The true danger to children, and to all Canadians, would be to permit an unaccountable group of anonymous civil servants to make decisions ... without at some point being accountable personally to the public that they serve," Kroft said in his arguments Thursday.

"If the most important witnesses, who are government employees exercising discretion over the people of Manitoba's fundamental rights, and they are not identified, this is something other than a public inquiry," he said.

Sinclair was abused and killed in her home after child welfare workers took her out of foster care and returned her to her mother.

Lawyers for the union and child welfare agencies say identifying the workers involved would be demoralizing and make it harder to attract workers.

But Kroft said the workers need to be accountable.

"The applicants ... are government officials. They work for the government. They're paid by the taxpayers of Manitoba. And the people of this province have entrusted those people with the power to remove children from their parents."

Kroft told inquiry commissioner Ted Hughes that the groups applying for the publication ban "are asking you to withhold truthful information from the people of Manitoba."

Earlier in the day, a lawyer for one child welfare agency suggested that allowing reporters to name and photograph social workers at the hearing would harm the entire child-welfare system in Manitoba.

"The system is currently under strain. There's a lot of stress. …

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