Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Man Who Would Later Kill Manitoba Girl Phoenix Sinclair Was Deemed High Risk

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Man Who Would Later Kill Manitoba Girl Phoenix Sinclair Was Deemed High Risk

Article excerpt

Inquiry hears of more warnings of violence


WINNIPEG - An inquiry heard Wednesday that social workers were given a clear warning about Karl McKay's propensity for violence years before he helped brutally beat a young Manitoba girl to death.

McKay already had a long history of assaults and domestic violence when he met with his probation officer in April 1999. It was a meeting that the officer said left her scared.

"I certainly felt that day that he was a very angry person and that my safety was at risk, and it wouldn't be safe for one particular individual to meet with him (alone) in the future," Miriam Browne testified.

"It was quite possible that he might become violent in the office. I felt physically intimidated by Mr. McKay. That was a very unusual circumstance, I will say."

Two days after the meeting, Browne wrote to the social worker who was dealing with McKay's then-common-law partner. She warned the worker of her serious concerns for the safety of McKay's partner and their two children, who would be made permanent wards of the state the following year.

Despite that letter, and many other warnings about McKay, he would slip under the radar and into the life of Phoenix Sinclair in 2004 when he started a relationship with the girl's mother, Samantha Kematch. The couple neglected and abused the girl, eventually beat her to death and buried her near a dump on the Fisher River reserve north of Winnipeg.

The inquiry is examining how child welfare failed to protect Phoenix, who spent most of her five years bouncing between foster care, her parents and the homes of family friends. Her death went undetected for nine months.

Phoenix was taken from her parents, Kematch and Steve Sinclair, days after her birth in April 2000. The couple had troubled, violent pasts and was unprepared to care for her, but social workers repeatedly worked toward reuniting the family.

In April 2004, Kematch took Phoenix from friends who were caring for the girl. The inquiry has already been told that when one social worker went to Kematch's home to check on the girl, a man who identified himself as "Wes" answered the door and said Kematch and Phoenix had gone out. McKay's middle name is Wesley.

The social worker didn't ask the man for his last name and didn't probe any further.

Had she done so and run a background check in the child welfare central information system, she would have turned up a file on McKay that included a long list of documents warning he was a violent, dangerous man.

The file, which has been tabled at the inquiry, includes Browne's 1999 letter which said McKay had repeatedly beaten and bruised his former partner. A report from another social worker said McKay had once taken the supporting leg off a bathroom sink and beaten his former partner with it. Another, earlier report said McKay had broken his partner's nose. …

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