Kimberly Rogers Inquest -
Thurs., Nov. 7, 2002 - Day 18
A previous witness was recalled at the request of the jury. The Executive Director of Birthright, who had visited Ms. Rogers on August 6, the Civic holiday, was asked to look at pictures taken by the police when they entered the apartment after the discovery of Ms. Rogers body. She was asked to compare how she remembered the apartment to look when she was there, with the appearance in the pictures. She said the state of the apartment was very different; it had not been nearly so messy on August 6. There were not so many articles strewn around on the floor nor on the coffee table.
Harold Duff, the Administrator of OW for Sudbury then took the stand. He began with an overview of Ontario Works. When asked by the Coroner to explain the difference between statutes, regulations, directives and policies, he required help from Coroner's counsel.
The Administrator himself became involved in the Kimberly Rogers case when community agencies began contacting him after her assistance had been terminated on her conviction. He advised the agencies that the City had no discretion to issue funds, and suggested Ms. Rogers should see the legal clinic about appealing to Social Benefits Tribunal (SBT). However after continued discussions with the agencies, he decided to pay for her medications costs while she was waiting for an interim assistance order from SBT or from a court. The city has a small fund for drug costs in extraordinary circumstances (he later indicated this is $10,000 which is also used for indigent burials.) There is no other municipal source of funds that could have been used to assist Ms. Rogers.
Mr. Duff then reviewed documentation that indicates the position his department and the (then) Region of Sudbury took on the "zero tolerance" or lifetime ban. There were minutes from a committee of the Ontario Municipal Social Services Association meeting which indicated that many municipalities opposed the ban and were passing resolutions asking the province to rescind it. His department prepared a report for their Region's Health and Social Services Committee, which in turn asked Council to pass a resolution opposing the lifetime ban. They did so, and sent a letter to then Minister John Baird. To date they have not received a response from the Ministry.
Internally, the Department responded to zero tolerance by changing the process they use to refer fraud cases to the police. Instead of just having a supervisor review the ERO's recommendation, it now goes to a committee of himself and other senior personnel, along with a city lawyer. They will now consider additional circumstances such as whether there are children.
The Administrator's evidence then turned to a discussion of the Consolidated Verification Process (CVP). This came up in Ms. Rogers' case because she was identified as "high risk" because her rent was too high ($450 rent; maximum shelter allowance $325). She received a letter in July directing her to come to an appointment on September 5; if she missed that appointment her assistance would be cancelled. Mr. Duff stated that "high risk" does not mean risk of fraud. If rent too high is identified then the caseworker would counsel the client to find cheaper accommodation, or get a roommate, or seek help from a rent bank.
As well, the CVP process is used to discover when people are underpaid, so they would have discovered in September that Ms. Rogers was not getting the pregnancy allowance, and that omission would have been rectified.
He then explained the various changes related to special diet for pregnancy. Prior to 1999, the province had a mandatory Pregnancy allowance of $37 per month for six months. That was cut in 1999. Sudbury then decided to issue funds from the "special diet" category for pregnancy: they gave $43 per month for 9 months. Many other municipalities adopted the same policy. The province subsequently issued a new special diet directive in September 2001 cutting the amount that municipalities could give back to $30 per month.
Don Kuyek, lawyer for the Sudbury Social Planning Council, suggested on cross examination that when the OW fraud review committee meets to consider whether to refer a case to the police, an advocate should be present to present any extenuating circumstances such as pregnancy, mental health issues, lack of income and availability of community resources, etc. With reluctance and a bit of prodding, the Administrator agreed it might be an idea worth considering.
The afternoon was taken up with submissions concerning the expert witnesses that the public interest groups wish to call. Counsel for the AG had many objections to our witnesses; Coroner's counsel expressed some concerns about some of the issues proposed to be dealt with. The Coroner said he would try to give his ruling on Friday.