fraud not open and shut
Editorial - When the lack of humanity in societys laws is this evident, its time for a change.
A Sudbury inquest into the death of Kimberly Roberts illustrates this in chilling fashion.
She died in August of 2001 while serving a six-month house arrest sentence for defrauding Ontarios welfare system.
Roberts, 40, was eight months pregnant when she was found dead.
She had plead guilty to defrauding welfare of $13,000 from 1996-99, when she also received $48,000 in student loans.
Provincial law imposes a lifetime ban on benefits for anyone convicted of welfare fraud.
Roberts was essentially confined to her home while cut off from financial support.
Her family doctor has told the Sudbury inquest this is unacceptable, and that essentially animals are treated better in our society.
Roberts tragic death cannot be blamed squarely on provincial welfare law, however.
An autopsy found she was healthy, pregnant with a baby girl, and could identify no cause of death.
But lethal concentrations of an anti-depressant were found in her blood system. Rogers had suffered from depression, as well as chronic pain, migraines and anxiety.
So its not a leap to conclude that while Roberts welfare fraud sentence did not cause her death, it can be seen as a contributing factor.
This began in the fall of 1995, when the new Ontario government cut welfare payments by 22 per cent.
Being on welfare had become a way of life to far too many people. It paid better than some jobs.
Reducing welfare cheques was seen by many as a way to convince people to find jobs - instead of relying on society to look after them.
It was also supposed to be a return to the original intention of welfare. Those unable to find work after their unemployment insurance ran out would be helped until a job was found.
Social agencies said it would mean more business for food banks, homeless shelters, street centres and other agencies which dealt with the down and out.
And they have been proven correct, although reducing welfare cheques is not the sole reason.
A hotline was set up so people could snitch on those suspected of cheating the welfare system. The province also toughened its regulations on welfare eligibility.
The lifetime benefit ban for those convicted of welfare fraud came from this political climate.
Fortunately that climate no longer exists.
While welfare fraud cannot be condoned, the regulations go too far. They should not contribute to a tragedy that results in loss of life. Not to any degree.
Kimberly Rogers and her baby did not deserve the sentence for her crime.
Our social policies are designed to help those who need it most - not punish them.
Its difficult to see this inquest recommending anything but an end to lifetime bans for those convicted of welfare fraud.