‘not enough to live on’
Sudbury - The Wednesday session of the coroners 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 Ontarios 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 Ontarios office, walked Porter through minute details of his study, and asked him why he used information from the governments 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 didnt express any reservations about the number of people convicted of welfare fraud tabulated on the Web site, but suggested the sites characterization of welfare fraud was ambiguous.
The coroners counsel, Al OMarra, 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 OMarras 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 Ive seen anywhere.
The inquest also heard from Little, a professor of political science and womens studies at Queens 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 Queens 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 Littles 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.