Duncan Sinclair and his seven siblings were hardly ever allowed to leave their home as children — garbage bags were stapled to the windows to stop people seeing inside. There was no school, no doctor or dentist appointments. No friends.
The “home-schooling” they received was so minimal one child said she only learned to read by the age of 11 by watching subtitles on television.
Their father, Paul Sinclair, left a sword by the door in case someone were to break in, according to an agreed statement of facts filed at his court hearing that documents the abuse.
Over more than three decades, the family moved more than 20 times. The children were told they were “on the run” from child protection services and the police who would take them away and split them up. They were given fake names to use both in and out of the home and told not to have conversations by the front door of their home lest neighbours get suspicious.
Paul Sinclair turned the siblings against each other, and against their mother, Rae Cara Carrington.
He was “angry, short-tempered especially if he didn’t get his way, very authoritarian, you had to obey him or there were consequences, there was physical abuse, mental, psychological abuse, name-calling,” testified one of the older children, now an adult. “You were only OK if you did what he said.”
On April 10, 2019 — after Paul Sinclair had been arrested for child and domestic abuse, the younger children taken into care and Carrington was living in a shelter trying to rebuild her life — 19-year-old Duncan Sinclair went to Carrington’s workplace and stabbed her 11 times puncturing her heart and lungs.
After deliberating for eight hours on Friday, a jury found Sinclair, now 22, guilty of first-degree murder, a verdict that comes with a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. Sinclair never testified at trial, with a defence resting on the possibility that he’d been wrongly identified by in high-resolution security video of the murder by both his siblings and two of his co-workers.
The Crown had argued Duncan Sinclair — the fourth-oldest of the children — found out his mother was working at a Fast Fresh Foods in the underground PATH in downtown Toronto, not far from where he worked at a Freshii. He brought a purple chef’s knife with him.
At around 7 p.m., security video showed him pacing in front of the food court restaurant before walking up to the counter and asking for Carrington. The supervisor, Sonya Malcolm, testified she told him she’d go get Carrington, but he followed her into the prep area.
Malcolm told him he couldn’t be back there, but he ignored her and said to Carrington: “Do you want your ID?”
He sounded upset, Malcolm said.
Carrington seemed to freeze and replied: “Not now.”
Security video shows her moving away from him.
“And then he pulled out his knife and started stabbing her,” Malcolm said, in tears. “I started to scream louder and louder and louder so that somebody could hear me … he kept on stabbing her. Stabbing her, stabbing her, stabbing her and she tried to move to get away and he kept on stabbing her.”
Sinclair didn’t say anything else before killing his mother, Malcolm said. “It was like he came to do a job and then leave.”
Sinclair was arrested two days later, at a YMCA in Midland after a staff member saw him searching for information about the murder and how to get to Winnipeg or Sudbury.
The case “remains a tragically sad, and deeply disturbing, reality,” said prosecutors Michael Cantlon and Pam Santora in a statement after the verdict. Carrington was at work when she was murdered “a place where all of us should feel safe.”
The testimony from the short trial and court records from Paul Sinclair’s court hearing earlier this year offer a window into how the horrific abuse endured by the children and Carrington went on for decades in Toronto and around Ontario, and why Duncan Sinclair murdered his mother.
“This is child neglect, pure and simple,” the judge said, in sentencing Paul Sinclair, then 66, to 4 1/2 years in prison and three years of probation after he pleaded guilty to five counts of unlawful confinement, five counts of failing to provide the necessaries of life and failing to comply with his bail conditions. “The extent of the damage and endangerment to the children is really untold and immeasurable.”
Carrington, a petite woman from a Sikh family, was 16 years old and in high school in Toronto in 1983 when she first met Paul Sinclair, who was 29 at the time, according to the agreed statement of facts filed in Paul Sinclair’s case. In an effort to escape an arranged marriage and an abusive family, she moved in with him and they began a relationship, according to Sinclair’s account in a pre-sentence report.
Two years later Carrington had their first of eight children, the last was born in 2009. There are only records of the two youngest being born in a hospital, though the children were later registered to receive a baby bonus payment from the government.
The demand for the children to be kept out of school came from Carrington, who had been sexually assaulted in high school, according to the agreed statement of facts.
One of the children testified that their father would say home-schooling was for their own protection from pedophile teachers, and that it would also stop them from being “corrupted and brainwashed.” The child said she thought it might really have been because teachers would have seen suspicious of marks left by beatings.
Paul Sinclair blamed their mother — the only parent who worked until the older children turned 16 and could get jobs — for everything, two of the children testified. The pattern was reflected in his pre-sentence report where he described himself as the victim of abuse.
“Whatever went wrong, whatever bad situation we were in was her fault, never his fault … he never spoke of her in a positive light, always a demeaning light,” one of the children testified (most of the children’s identities are under a publication ban).
The family had several run-ins with child protection agencies over the years, documented in the agreed statement of facts.
The first was in August 1994 when hospital staff became concerned about a lack of prenatal care for a soon-to-be-born third child. Carrington did not attend follow up visits and by the next month the family had disappeared and the file was closed.
In 1999, that now-five-year-old child was found alone in a tent on a rural property by an OPP officer. At the time, Paul Sinclair was living with the three children in tents on the property while Carrington was living in town, pregnant with Duncan Sinclair. Though Carrington initially made contact with the Children’s Aid Society (CAS), the family disappeared once again and the child was adopted.
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In 2006, the second youngest child was born in a Peel Region hospital and hospital staff referred Carrington to the local CAS. Carrington pretended to be estranged from Paul Sinclair and her other children, and was able to regain custody of the baby. She then returned to her family.
Once the children turned 16 they were expected to start working full-time with all the money going into a bank account controlled by their father and eldest sibling. In 2014, after an argument over a debt incurred by his father and oldest sibling, one of the children left and moved out on his own.
In February 2018, the only daughter in the family called 911 to ask for the number for a suicide hotline — the 15-year-old had seen a poster on the subway and had been struggling with depression since she was 11. Instead, police were dispatched to the apartment on the Danforth where the family was living despite her protests. The officers reported what they saw to the CAS, but by the time a worker came to the apartment the family had fled.
The daughter continued to become increasingly frustrated that she was not allowed to go to school. She reconnected with her brother who had left over Facebook and was able to leave and go into foster care in the summer of 2018. She went to the police later that year, worried about her younger siblings.
In late 2018, Paul Sinclair was arrested on a rural property, hiding in the snow for more than an hour with the three youngest children. Carrington was also found nearby. Paul Sinclair was charged again in February 2019 and this time remained in custody after violating his bail conditions.
“I absolutely think the system failed. The whole case is so tragic, everyone involved had a tragic life. If the system had intervened in all the appropriate times … we wouldn’t be here today,” said Joelle Klein, Duncan Sinclair’s lawyer, in an interview. “The kids were working, the mother was working. Don’t tell me the authorities couldn’t find any of them.”
After Paul Sinclair’s arrest, the three youngest children, all under the age of 18, were placed in foster care and started going to school for the first time. The youngest, who was almost 10, had five decaying teeth treated. They got their first Christmas gifts.
“I was overjoyed,” testified the only girl, when she learned her younger brothers were now in care. “It was the greatest news I’d ever gotten.”
Their mother made two police statements in early 2019, saying she was petrified of Sinclair.
She moved into a women’s shelter and was rebuilding her life, hoping to regain custody of the three youngest children. A Toronto police officer had been helping her collect and store furniture, dishes and household items she would need once she found her own place. Her cherry red purse was full of cards for social service agencies and a legal clinic that serves women experiencing domestic violence.
Duncan Sinclair and his eldest brother, however, refused to co-operate with the police and sided with their father — the detective in charge of the investigation testified the other children described them as “minions of their father.”
In January, a day after his mother made her first police statement alleging abuse by Paul Sinclair, both Duncan Sinclair and his eldest brother went to the police to try and discredit their two siblings who had reported the abuse. Duncan Sinclair also maintained his mother should not be allowed to regain custody of the youngest children, describing her as “mentally unstable.”
The Crown argued his motive to kill his mother was evident from his police statement, in which he attempts to describe his father positively, and from a notebook found among his belongings when he was arrested.
“I believe if she attains custody of my siblings she will disappear and never be heard from again as she has done in the past and will do again,” the notebook said.
“I believe my mother has already started lying and manipulating children’s aid as well as the police.”
His sister testified she shared some of the misgivings Sinclair had about their mother regaining custody of the youngest children and going back to her father.
Growing up, she said, she had no relationship with her mother, who was mostly out of the house working.
“We wouldn’t talk to her because if we did our dad said we were betraying him,” she said.
“I felt like she was never there for me. I never knew who she was. She was just this woman that worked and bought groceries for us,” she said.
She said her brother Duncan felt the same way: that “she never took care of us, she wasn’t a good mother.”
In her victim impact statement filed at her father’s sentencing hearing she described having to act as a mother to her younger siblings, which made it even harder for her to make friends.
“My father never taught me anything but violence and hatred,” she said. “My mom had PTSD and didn’t know how to handle her emotions either. We were not able to fix this before she died. My dad took this relationship away from me.”
All five of the children said the isolation made it hard to make friends and that they were “socially awkward.”
“Worse than the physical abuse I suffered from Paul growing up was having to watch my siblings and my mother get physically abused,” one said. “Hearing their cries, hearing their pain, still affects me today when I hear a child crying in public.”
“I’m always worried about getting in trouble. Even when I’m not doing anything wrong,” said the youngest child. “I felt like I was trapped and wasn’t allowed to use my emotions, we couldn’t be nice to each other. I always worried about my mom.”
For Katreena Scott, the academic director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western Univesity, the tragic case shows the importance of employers and co-workers being able to recognize the signs of domestic and family violence, have conversations about it, and help connect the person to resources or help.
The same goes for neighbours and landlords who might have seen or suspected something wrong.
“People may not know how to put the dots together … and then sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to do,” Scott said. “All of us have a role to play in making our communities safer and making sure children in our communities are safe.”
- NOTE: The Assaulted Women’s Helpline is available 24/7 at 1-866-863-0511 or text #SAFE to #7233.
Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati
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