In 2002, ISAC represented two public interest intervenors in the inquest into the death of Kimberly Rogers. The year before, Kimberly Rogers had been found dead in her Sudbury apartment. She had been under house arrest after being convicted of welfare fraud for collecting OSAP loans while on social assistance. She was eight months pregnant and Sudbury was experiencing an extreme heat wave at the time.
When she plead guilty to welfare fraud three months earlier, Kimberly Roger’s only source of income was social assistance and the social assistance rules at the time required that her benefits be automatically suspended for three months as a result of the fraud conviction. She was sentenced to six months house arrest with no means of financial support.
With the help of the Sudbury Community Legal Clinic and a private bar lawyer, Ms. Rogers succeeded in obtaining a constitutional injunction that temporarily re-instated her social assistance benefits, but at $486 a month they were far from adequate. After paying her rent, she had only $18 left over for food and other necessities. Community organizations, already over-extended, could provide only limited support.
An inquest into Ms. Roger’s death began on October 15, 2002 and lasted for 9 weeks, with final submissions heard on December 11 and 12. The Coroner’s inquest looked at the circumstances surrounding her death including the role played by social assistance rules and policy. The Coroner’s jury released its recommendations in December 2001 and a number of key recommendations were directed to social assistance policy including
- eliminate the lifetime and temporary social assistance bans for people convicted of welfare fraud
- assess the adequacy of social assistance rates and base allowances on actual living costs within a particular community or region
- Ontario Works drug benefits for the treatment of serious medical conditions should not be discontinued during any Ontario Works suspensions;
- permit local Ontario Works administrators to exercise discretion in the use of any suspension of benefits
- establish a committee composed of various stakeholders across Ontario to develop a model for assessing whether cases involving allegations of welfare fraud should be referred for prosecution. The model should include an evaluation of the life circumstances of the recipient and the consequences of a conviction on the recipient and any dependents.
ISAC reviewed the status of the jury recommendations one year later and released a Report Card.