Rogers would have been jailed if Tories hadnít changed law
Before the Tory government adopted conditional sentences in 1996, which allowed convicted persons to serve their sentence in the community, almost all adults convicted of welfare fraud were sent to jail, testified Mary Cameron-Nothery, a top level criminal law policy adviser for Ontarios Attorney General.
Before 1996, it was not unusual to see jail terms or incarceration for social assistance types of fraud, said Cameron-Nothery, director of criminal law policy for the Attorney Generals office.
Her office has endorsed this kind of punishment because welfare fraud was considered stealing from the public purse, she said.
For years, the Ontario Court of Appeal regularly upheld jail sentences for welfare fraud over $5,000, said Cameron-Nothery.
Rogers, 40, was sentenced to six months of house arrest and 18 months probation after pleading guilty to theft over $5,000 for collecting $13,500 in welfare while on student loans of $32,000 between 1996 and late 1999. She was eight months pregnant when her body was found in her apartment during a blistering heat wave.
The inquest has heard Rogers, 40, died from an overdose of amitriptyline, prescribed to fight depression and prevent migraine headaches.
Rogers suffered from chronic depression, migraine headaches, panic attacks, insomnia and physical pain following a 1997 knee surgery.
The inquest has heard Rogers was relieved to discover she would be sentenced to six months of house arrest rather than going to jail after admitting to her crime.
Welfare fraud cases have always been considered very serious because taxpayers demand people who steal from the public purse be punished severely, she said.
Most conditional sentences imposed include provisions where the accused can leave their residence for medical appointments, to attend church or other provisions as detailed by a probation officer.
The range of sentence is based on the individual case and circumstances, she said.
Criminal charges are only filed based on a Crown assessment of whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction and whether its in the public interest to prosecute, she said.
Many criteria are considered before prosecution, including whether a conviction would be unduly harsh towards an accused, she said.
Conditional sentencing were developed and implemented to recognize jail terms are often overly punitive for certain offences, while signifying some offences deserve harsher punishment that simple probation, said Cameron-Nothery.
There are provisions that allow those sentenced to house arrest to ask that certain terms and conditions be changed, and this involves a court hearing before a judge, she said.
In earlier testimony, the police officer who arrested Rogers testified she admitted her guilt within minutes of being called to police headquarters.
Rogers was convicted April 25,2001. She was arrested on Sept. 5, 2000 by Const. Sheldon Roberts, who has spent the last 10 years of a 30-year police career investigating fraud complaints.
The file relating to Rogers case involved very simple police work, said Roberts.
I told her she was under arrest and gave her information about her legal aid rights, said Roberts. She was cautioned and told of her right to get a lawyer and she understood.
Ms. Rogers was very co-operative with us.
There was overwhelming evidence she had committed the fraud, he said.