Phoenix Inquiry: Karl McKay’s digits and the perils of old technology

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(Karl McKay, 2006)

Exactly one month before a Winnipeg CFS worker went to probe an abuse complaint at Samantha Kematch’s home and left without physically seeing her daughter, another crisis-response worker along for the ride handled an unrelated call from her boyfriend, Karl Wesley (Wes) McKay.

And just two months before the Feb 9, 2005 intake unit referral Bill Leskiw handled, CFS had been scrambling to try and uncover information about McKay, but didn’t have his proper name or correct birthdate.

But a brief review of records tabled at the inquiry into Phoenix Sinclair’s death show that if internal files had been able to be cross-referenced by phone number at the time Leskiw dealt with McKay, CFS then had another chance to connect the dots and link the real Karl McKay to Samantha Kematch and Phoenix.

But it appears the limitations of the CFS computer system — CFSIS — in 2005 wouldn’t have allowed this. (CFSIS was created in 1993)

The inability of CFS to uncover who McKay actually was has been seen as a major turning point and failing of the child-welfare system in Phoenix’s case, with one supervisor saying uncovering the information likely would have “changed everything.”

Screen Shot 2013-01-16 at 6.28.25 PMHe and Kematch are serving life sentences for first-degree murder in connection to Phoenix’s June 14, 2005 death by horrific abuse. McKay was considered a “high risk” domestic violence offender who had a lengthy history with CFS and a major drinking problem.

Wednesday, the inquiry briefly tabled a document showing McKay called CFS and left a phone number of 783-7516.

That phone number is the same CFS had listed for Kematch when the agency became involved in her life after the birth of her fourth child on Nov. 30, 2004.

It’s also the number Kematch gave the welfare office and Manitoba Vital Statistics when applying for benefits days after the baby’s birth.

Given conduct of the case, worker Shelley Willox (then Wiebe) initially recommended — and her supervisor agreed — the file be transferred to a separate CFS unit to fully investigate Kematch, Phoenix and their living circumstances, also to get to the bottom of who “Wes McKay” was.

But the file was instead handed back to Willox for follow up, outside the expected practice within CFS, where CRU was only to hold files for up to 48 hours before transferring or closing them. She made calls trying to get information but found little at hand. The case was closed Dec. 7, 2004 citing a lack of child-protection concerns.

Fast forward to March 9, 2005, the day Leskiw and Christopher Zalevich met with Kematch at her home and left without seeing Phoenix despite the suspected abuse. Leskiw was only along for the ride as backup and said Wednesday he had no recall of the visit.

This became the last chance Winnipeg CFS would have to intervene in Phoenix’s life before Kematch and McKay moved to the Fisher River First Nation and murdered the little girl inside a home. Zalevich and his supervisor, Diva Faria, recommended the file be closed on the same day Zalevich visited the home and didn’t see Phoenix.

In the case history Zalevich was working off of, there’s no mention of McKay nor anything referring to the December 2004 intervention. It had been omitted after the worker who took the complaint cut-and-pasted the file history from other documents — a practice now forbidden in CFS crisis-response units.

Leskiw said he didn’t remember anything about the call that day or if Zalevich told him anything about why they were going to see Kematch.

He said there was no way for him to connect his February interaction with McKay with the call Zalevich was handling. “I have to focus on my own cases, my own files,” he said. No details of why McKay called CFS were discussed.

It was later disclosed in another record (April 18, 2005) relating to McKay’s ex that she had “adopted plans” to have one of McKay’s kids “stay with his birth dad, Karl McKay for the upcoming summer.” Leskiw was also referenced in that record as the “intake/service worker” at the time, but the record related to another CFS department.

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