Justice With Dignity - Committee to Remember Kimberly Rogers


Kimberly Rogers Inquest Alerts

Welfare ‘not enough to live on’
Rogers inquest hears from two experts critical of Ontario’s welfare system


by Eli Schuster
Osprey Media Group Inc.
Thursday, December 05, 2002

 

Sudbury - The Wednesday session of the coroner’s inquest into the death of Kimberly Rogers heard from two expert witnesses: Employment Insurance fraud expert Bruce Porter, who sat through a second day of tough cross-examination, and author Margaret Little.

Rogers, 40, died of an overdose of anti-depressants in her Sudbury apartment in August 2001 during a heat wave. At the time of her death, she was eight months pregnant and under house arrest for welfare fraud.

Porter underwent an intense cross-examination after he presented charts, based on numbers from both the Government of Ontario’s Web site, and the Centre for Justice Statistics, that were intended to show that women are more likely to receive conditional sentences, such as house arrest, for the crime of fraud over $5,000, and that Ontario tends to prosecute welfare fraud more vigorously than other provinces.

Michelle Smith, a lawyer with the Attorney General of Ontario’s office, walked Porter through minute details of his study, and asked him why he used information from the government’s Web site when he claimed earlier that he “had a lot of difficulty” with some of the information provided on it.

Porter replied that he “didn’t express any reservations” about the number of people convicted of welfare fraud tabulated on the Web site, but suggested the site’s characterization of welfare fraud was “ambiguous.”

The coroner’s counsel, Al O’Marra, accused Porter, who is not a statistician, of offering “mushy and murky” numbers to the inquest, adding: “this is information the jury cannot rely on.”

Porter acknowledged the numbers he developed could be considered “soft” and that they ought to be used with “caution and judgment” because they cannot say with certainty which punishments are handed down in cases of welfare fraud.

Porter replied to O’Marra’s charge that he had been careless in his research by arguing “the conclusions … are all absolutely valid,” and that his data is “better information than anything I’ve seen anywhere.”

The inquest also heard from Little, a professor of political science and women’s studies at Queen’s University, and the author of No Car, No Radio, No Liquor Permit: The Moral Registration of Welfare Mothers in Ontario, 1920-1997, who has interviewed welfare mothers in all parts of the province for her academic research.

Little testified that “a welfare cheque is simply not enough to live on,” and that it is “absolutely impossible for (welfare recipients) to have nutritious food.”

Little decried Ontario Works’ “documentation frenzy,” and told of one woman who was ordered to collect three years’ worth of bank statements in order to apply for welfare, and did not have the $120 needed to obtain the necessary documents from her bank.

The Queen’s professor complained that Ontario Works’ policy of putting recipients on the “shortest route to employment,” is “very short-sighted,” since it forces recipients to take low-wage part-time jobs that do not lead to gainful long-term employment.

In small towns with high employment, Ontario Works requires recipients to annoy the same employers every week in order for them to stay on welfare, she said.

Little went on to speak of how many female welfare recipients have been victims of domestic violence before the coroner, Dr. David Eden, interrupted to say he was “concerned with the relevance” of Little’s testimony, since Rogers was not a victim of adult domestic abuse and had a medical deferral that exempted her from having to look for work.

 

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