Phoenix inquiry: Proceed to memory

Screen Shot 2012-12-01 at 8.13.14 PM“A clear conscience is the sure sign of a bad memory.” —  Mark Twain

My memory is a blessing and a curse.

On one hand, I can recall nearly every article I’ve written for various media outlets in the past five years, including arcane details of events nobody but me would ever care about. I remember what it felt like to be places, to see things and experience them.

But on the other, I still struggle to remember other things, like the date of my parents’ wedding anniversary or buying coffee or milk for home when it runs out.

I’m confident saying, however, I remember my personal experiences with most, if not all people — both those familiar to me and interactions with strangers.

By virtue of my work I meet a lot of people. I’m not great with names, necessarily, but I remember their faces.

I also remember in unrelenting detail sitting with strangers in some of their most trying or difficult moments — and there’s been more than a handful of those moments in the last seven years.

Maybe I’m just special, but I doubt that. I’m no social worker, so my presence was likely not all that helpful. But I am human.

It’s been difficult for me to accept how former Winnipeg CFS supervisor Diana Verrier can’t remember one thing independently of CFS case files regarding her dealings with Phoenix Sinclair or her family between 2000 and 2004.

A day after Phoenix Sinclair was born, Verrier was there. She sat (or stood, we’ll never know) with Samantha Kematch and Steve Sinclair and gleaned the following information:

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Even a cursory glance at the above reports shows Verrier was able to pull intimate details out of two perfect strangers (and Sinclair was noted for being private) prior to her and her partner putting a note on their hospital chart that their baby would be coming into CFS care.
She couldn’t, today, recall any of it — of them —  independently of her notes. She can’t remember baby Phoenix — whose travels through the CFS system from the day after she was born always seemed to  fail to rate much attention from anybody paid to look out for her.
Nor can Verrier remember signing off on two sepaearte CFS intake reports in early 2004, when Phoenix’s circumstances — do you know anyone named Phoenix? Would you forget them? — appeared to be murky and potentially dangerous and unstable. Maybe she didn’t read them, but that wouldn’t be good practice.
Third time’s the charm, right? By May 11, 2004, Verrier would be confronted again by some familiar names in the “history” section of a report that she signed off on:
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Both parents have been involved with child welfare agencies as permanent wards. Samantha became a ward of Cree Nation Child and Family Services in 1993 and Steven a ward of Winnipeg Child and Family Services in 1991. Samantha had one child, when she was seventeen years old who is a permanent ward in care of Cree Nation Child and Family Services. Steven and Samantha had two children together. Phoenix born on April 23, 2000 and apprehended at birth as neither parent was ready or prepared to parent their daughter. In September of 2000 Phoenix was returned to her parents. On April 29, 2001, they had another baby named who went to live with them and Phoenix. died of natural causes related to complications of pneumonia on July 15, 2001 while in the care of Steven shortly after Samantha and Steven separated. Phoenix remained with Steven and the file was closed in March 2002 because Steven did not want any further services from the agency. The file was re-opened on February 28, 2003 due to medical concerns about Phoenix having a foreign object in her nose and was infected. The file was subsequently transferred for ongoing service on June 27, 2003, after Phoenix was apprehended on June 23, 2003. Steven’s ability to parent his daughter had deteriorated to the point of him being under the influence most of the time and subjecting his daughter to inappropriate caregivers. Samantha was also known to be abusing substances and prostituting. Mr. Sinclair requested his child stay in care until he felt strong enough to care for her once again. Phoenix was returned to her father’s care on October 2, 2003. In Jan. /04, Samantha and a friend had a falling out and the friend contacted the Agency to report that Samantha drinks alcohol and smokes “rock” in front of Phoenix. Upon checking, it was determined that the Dad, Steven Sinclair was actually the primary caregiver since Phoenix was just a toddler. Samantha made allegations that Steven was drinking and neglecting Phoenix. Steven in turn made the same allegations against Samantha. It was then determined that phoenix was not living with either one of them as dad had privately placed her with family friends, Kim and Rohan Stevenson, while he got his life in order. As this appeared to be an acceptable arrangement, no further action was taken at the time, however, it was noted in the worker’s recording that Phoenix would be at risk if the situation changed and she was in he care of either parent. 

(The bolded sections represent things Verrier, as worker and later, supervisor, would have experienced first hand or read about the case in at least three different files she signed over the years.)
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Based on the foregoing, Debbie De Gale, who worked under Verrier, dug a little deeper:

(Source) called to report that Samantha has brought in a letter from her lawyer claiming that she has been caring for Phoenix since Nov. /03 and requested that she be provided financial assistance for phoenix. (Source) stated that the father, Steven Sinclair, has been receiving assistance for Phoenix however, he has been giving it to family friends, Kim and Rohan Stevenson.

was concerned about Phoenix being in her mother’s care, as it was understanding from the previous CFS worker that she would be at risk in either her mother or father’s care. Upon checking CFSIS, this worker was able to -confirm this to be true, provided updated demographic information on all concerned. This worker advised that I will look into this matter and get back to (source)

P/c to Kim and Rohan Stevenson. The person that answered the phone stating that I had the wrong phone number.

P/c to Steven. The phone number has been disconnected.

P/c to Samantha. She claimed that she has been caring for Phoenix since last November. This worker asked her how that came to be since, just in Feb. , phoenix had been privately placed with Kim and Rohan Stevenson. Samantha claimed that it was in fact her, who had placed Phoenix with the Stevenson and not Steven. This worker asked her how long Phoenix had been staying with the Stevensons. Samantha stated that Phoenix had been at the Stevenson’s for a month. This worker asked her why she would put Phoenix to stay with the Stevensons for that length of time, especially given the fact that she had only come back into her care recently (according to Samantha). Samantha then appeared to be at a loss for words, then suddenly she uttered a profanity and hung up the phone on this worker.

Despite this combined with the history and warning signs, Verrier ultimately saw the case as non-urgent, and assessed it as a 2-day follow up instead of one as De Gale had recommended. She described the history as laid out by De Gale above as being “typical” of many others which came across desks in the agency,

We can question that judgement (nobody from CFS saw Kematch until July, anyways), but the real question to me is: how is it remotely possible Verrier doesn’t remember these people at all?

Phoenix, Samantha, Steven: those three names linked together in multiple CFS case files over and over and over again over the years — some of them files she would have read and approved multiple times.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but to me, they — and others wrapped up in their sad, sad story —  have become unforgettable.

But it appears to many in CFS who handled the case, including Verrier — who no longer works in child-protection or in Manitoba — they — especially Phoenix — weren’t even worth a second thought.

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