03/12/2013 03:45 EDT | Updated 05/12/2013 05:12 EDT

Inquiry commission rules killer's relatives will remain anonymous

WINNIPEG - Relatives of a man who took part in the fatal beating of a young Manitoba girl will remain anonymous when they testify at an inquiry into her death.

Three of Karl Wesley McKay's children and a former common-law partner were granted a publication ban on their names Tuesday by inquiry commissioner Ted Hughes. Their faces will also be concealed as they testify via video. Their images will only be seen by Hughes.

"Each of the witnesses has given their own evidence that they have previously experienced instances of harassment as a result of their connection to Karl Wesley McKay," Hughes said.

"I further accept ... that these four witnesses have been damaged by their association with Karl Wesley McKay, and to subject them to publicity in this inquiry would be to victimize them further."

The inquiry is examining the death of Phoenix Sinclair in 2005 and how the five-year-old girl was failed by provincial child welfare.

Phoenix spent much of her life in foster care or with family friends in Winnipeg, but was eventually returned into the custody of her mother, Samantha Kematch, who had a history of violence.

Social workers decided the girl was safe and closed her file.

Kematch and McKay, who was the mother's boyfriend, moved to the Fisher River reserve in the spring of 2005. They neglected and abused Phoenix before a final deadly assault in June of that year. The girl's death went undetected for nine months.

McKay's family testified at the couple's 2008 second-degree murder trial that ended in their convictions and sentences to life in prison. The relatives filed affidavits with the inquiry that said the experience was traumatic and the publicity led them to be questioned by their peers at school and work.

The relatives said they have tried to move on and many of their current acquaintances are unaware they are related to a murderer. One of McKay's children has kids of her own who do not know their grandfather is a killer, according to her affidavit.

The request for a publication ban was challenged by Intertribal Child and Family Services, a regional agency responsible for an area that includes the Fisher River reserve. The agency's lawyer argued that requests for publication bans were supposed to be filed last April, a deadline the relatives did not meet. The lawyer also argued that the identities should not be protected because they had already been revealed during and after the murder trial.

Hughes rejected both arguments.

It's not clear when testimony will resume. Hughes still has to rule on whether one of the lawyers at the inquiry, Kris Saxberg, is in a conflict of interest due to multiple parties he represents, including three regional child welfare authorities.

If Saxberg has to drop one or more of his clients, a new lawyer may have to be brought in and given time to get up to speed.