Justice With Dignity - Committee to Remember Kimberly Rogers

Kimberly Rogers Inquest Alerts

Justice system not designed to handle welfare fraud cases

by Keith Lacey
Northern Life

Wednesday, December 04, 2002 - 09:18

An expert in poverty law and Employment Insurance (EI) told a coroner’s jury, people who commit welfare fraud should not be dealt with under Canada’s criminal justice system.

“The criminal justice system is not the place to deal with people who are vulnerable,” said Bruce Porter, who has interviewed thousands of welfare recipients in his career.

“The system is not designed for this.”

Many judges don’t feel welfare fraud should be dealt with under the criminal code either, said Porter.

These same judges, however, are forced under the current criminal justice system to adhere to criminal code statutes and have no choice but to mete out punishment as prescribed by statute, he said.

Statistics clearly indicate the incidence of welfare fraud over $5,000 is rare compared to the 450,000 or so people who collect social assistance in Ontario, said Porter.

Statistics he provided show an average of about 500 cases of welfare fraud per year in Ontario over the last several years.

The Employment Insurance Commission in Ontario in 2000 investigated almost 970,000 overpayments and issued 80,000 penalties without a single criminal prosecution, said Porter.

Rogers was sentenced April 25, 2001 to six months of house arrest, 18 months’ probation and ordered to pay restitution after pleading guilty to collecting $13,5000 in welfare benefits while collecting $32,000 in student loans between 1996 and 1999.

Rogers, who was pregnant, died from an overdose of anti-depressants. Her badly decomposed body was found in the sweltering heat of her West End apartment Aug. 9, 2001.

The inquest has heard that after Rogers was convicted of welfare fraud, her benefits were automatically suspended for three months. However, a successful court challenge resulted in her benefits being reinstated at the end of May.

All EI fraud cases handled by investigators are dealt with administratively with fines and repayments almost always the punishment, said Porter.

This is the only fair way to punish welfare fraud, he said.

The incidence of welfare fraud is dramatically lower than EI fraud, yet those convicted of welfare fraud are stigmatized, ostracized and often severely punished as criminals, he said.

Under the EI system, administrators are allowed to take into consideration the effects of punishment on the accused and their dependents and the circumstances of why the accused provided false information, said Porter.

In many cases he knows of, penalties and fines are waived if the effects of the penalty would devastate the person or dependents, he said.

The inquest is expected to hear from its final witness today.

Closing submissions are scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday before the jury begins two or three weeks of deliberations.


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