The Manitoba government will this week release a much-anticipated independent report on how to implement the remaining recommendations from an inquiry into the 2005 murder of Phoenix Sinclair, a five-year-old aboriginal girl who died in provincial care.
The roughly 200-page report, which could be released online as early as Tuesday, is expected to propose legislative changes that may lead to greater transparency at the Office of the Children's Advocate, an independent body tasked with protecting children and youth in Child and Family Services (CFS) care.
The report comes at a time when the province's child-welfare system is under intense scrutiny after the August killing of Tina Fontaine, a native teen who died after going missing from her foster-care placement at a downtown Winnipeg hotel. Her death has also reignited calls for a national inquiry into Canada's more than 1,180 murdered and missing aboriginal women.
The Children's Advocate is investigating the public services Tina received as part of a so-called death review that occurs whenever a child dies in care. However, the results of that review – including any recommendations aimed at preventing future incidents – are not made public under current provincial legislation. Since the office cannot provide case-related updates, it is impossible to know the findings or status of the probe.
The woman who raised Tina, her great-aunt Thelma Favel, said she was not even aware the Children's Advocate was investigating the girl's death. Ms. Favel, who was slated to speak at an event on a rural Manitoba reserve Monday evening dedicated to raising awareness about deaths in CFS care, expressed cautious optimism that the province will make significant improvements to the child-welfare system.
"There were so many things that were supposed to change when little Sinclair passed away, and they still haven't," Ms. Favel said, adding that she believes death reviews, and any recommendations they may contain, should be made public. "People are trying to help now, and while it's too late for Tina, maybe in the long run it will help other kids."
Cabinet press secretary Rachel Morgan said Family Services minister Kerri Irvin-Ross received the report earlier this month from AMR Planning and Consulting, an aboriginal-owned and operated company. "The minister has said she is interested in the public getting more information and in families getting more information," Ms. Morgan said, adding that Ms. Irvin-Ross will respond publicly to the report this week, in keeping with a commitment made last year.
The commissioner of the Sinclair inquiry, Justice Ted Hughes, made 62 recommendations, half of which have already been acted upon. Among the remaining recommendations is for the province to pass legislation similar to that in British Columbia, which gives the powerful child-welfare representative there the discretion to disclose the findings of death reviews.
"We looked at what's going on in other jurisdictions and I'm sure that will help us as we create new legislation here," Ms. Morgan said. Ainsley Krone, a Children's Advocate spokeswoman, said she is "hopeful" the government will move quickly to bring Manitoba's legislation in line with that already in place in B.C.
Tina's death also triggered an automatic investigation by the relevant CFS agency, but that review cannot conclude until the police investigation is complete, a ministry spokesman said. Asked what is meant by "complete" – charges laid, an arrest or a conviction, for example – the spokesman referred The Globe to the Winnipeg Police Service, which continues to probe the 15-year-old's death as a homicide. A WPS spokeswoman said an investigation is considered complete when a conviction is made and the appeal period has passed.