fraud rare: inquest
Sudbury - Kimberly Rogers would very likely have been assisted indirectly by social services authorities had she been homeless and needed to stay at a shelter managed by the Elizabeth Fry Society, the coroners inquest into her death was told Monday.
Harold Duff, Sudburys director of social services and the local administrator of Ontario Works, testified his agency provides funding to local shelters, outreach programs, and clinics under its Homelessness Initiative Fund.
Under cross-examination, Duff acknowledged shelter residents have to fill out a so-called Ontario Works pink sheet, but suggested the form is more of a tracking mechanism for homeless residents than an actual application for welfare.
Asked if an Elizabeth Fry Society shelter would receive funds for housing individuals under a lifetime welfare ban, Duff said he has not had to deal with such a problem, but added people are not generally turned away from homeless shelters because of the provinces welfare policies.
My sense of where we are today is if a person is homeless and winds up in a shelter, we will fund that shelter, said Duff.
At the time of her death, Rogers was not homeless, and some of the lawyers questioned the usefulness of this line of questioning, since her landlord allowed her to go into arrears and even reduced her rent by $150 a month, and she was assisted by the Elizabeth Fry Society and Birthright.
Rogers, 40, died of an overdose of anti-depressants in August 2001 in her apartment during a heat wave. She was eight months pregnant, clinically depressed and serving a six-month conditional sentence for welfare fraud.
For about a month, Rogers was affected by a three-month welfare ban that was overturned by a successful Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge.
The province now has a lifetime ban for such fraud.
Her sentence allowed her to leave her apartment at any time for medical and religious appointments or reasons approved by her supervisor, and for three hours every Wednesday to shop for necessities.
Police can investigate
Much of Duffs testimony dealt with standard operating procedures within his organization. Duff claimed that of the thousands of cases that are managed within the Sudbury area, between five and 10 per cent somehow involve fraud.
Fraud cases involving more than $5,000 are sent to the police for investigation, said Duff. Cases involving less than $5,000 are dealt with in-house and clients are expected to repay what they have been overpaid.
Clients who are given a lifetime ban for welfare fraud are still eligible for other government programs, such as Employment Insurance (EI) and Canada Pension Plan (CPP) payments, said Duff.
Asked by a juror how long a typical recipient receives welfare, Duff replied: No two cases are ever quite the same, but added the average time on welfare is 20 months in Sudbury.
Between 15 and 20 per cent of the citys Ontario Works clients legally supplement their welfare income with employment of some kind, said Duff, while some mothers with dependent children stay in the system for years.
Coroner makes ruling
(Their time on welfare) could be longer or shorter, based on their needs, said Duff.
The hearing began with a ruling by the presiding coroner, Dr. David Eden, on the question of whether welfare workers should consider their clients Charter rights when they inform the police of welfare fraud.
Eden said the inquests goal is to prevent future deaths, not to act as a human rights tribunal or decide if Rogers rights were violated.
Legal rights and public safety, he argued, have different roots and goals, and cannot always be reconciled.