Could Have Been Prevented
SUDBURY - government sharing of information currently in place would have prevented Kimberly Rogers from defrauding the social assistance system for three years, the coroner's inquest into her death was told Monday.
Social assistance eligibility review officer Carmen Marleau-Woitowich said information about government assistance and funding is now linked by computer on a monthly basis.
"it would have matched up in a matter of months," she said.
Dr. David Eden, who is heading the inquest, asked if the social assistance office would have found out before someone was "pushed over the threshold" and before criminal charges would have to be laid?
"Yes," she said.
Rogers, 40, was serving a six-month conditional sentence for welfare fraud that permitted her to leave her Sudbury apartment for only three hours per week and to attend medical appointments. She died in August 2001 during a heat wave while eight months pregnant. A toxicology report indicated she died of a lethal dose of antidepressants.
Const. Sheldon Roberts, of the Greater Sudbury Police's fraud unit of the criminal investigation branch, said Rogers knew that she had committed fraud.
"Kimberly said, 'I know I was wrong to receive welfare and OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) and I wrote to welfare and OSAP to say I was sorry," Roberts testified.
Rogers was charged for receiving welfare while a full-time student for three years in a post-secondary institution. Roberts said reasonable grounds must first be established before any charges are laid.
"Were you compelled to act?" asked Al O'Marra, coroner's counsel.
"I had an obligation as a police officer," Roberts said.
"Were there reasonable grounds?" O'Marra asked.
"The charge was warranted," the constable said.
The inquest was told last week that between 1999 and 2001, there were only seven convictions for welfare fraud over $5,000. Rogers' overpayment of welfare was about $13,000. Jennifer Scott, representing the Elizabeth Fry Society, the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, the National Association of Women and the Law and the National Anti-Poverty Organization asked Roberts if mitigating circumstances are considered before a charge is laid.
"In Kimberly Rogers' case, she was going to school to eventually go off the welfare rolls," Scott said. "Was the offence committed out of necessity?"
Roberts said when a possible welfare fraud case is referred to police, the file is prepared by the social assistance office. The bulk of the investigation is done by the eligibility review officers.
"Would you recommend that certain factors be considered?" Scott asked, such as "dire circumstances...that there be something before you to make sure all of what should be considered, is?"
"I wouldn't be opposed to that," Roberts said.
Scott also asked if the circumstances of the impact of a conviction, in welfare fraud, are thought of?
"Did you know that she would not have any income?" Scott asked.
"These people are not public enemy No. 1," Roberts said. "We treat them with dignity and respect...and tell them it is not the end of the world and you go before the court and then get on with your life...
"There was no indication she was so despondent she would want to end her life."
"Did you know she would be denied income and medication?" Scott asked.
"No," Roberts said.
The lawyer asked if consideration was given on how the charge would impact her ability to work in her field and the constable replied with a no.
The inquest continues today.