By Keith Lacey
The inquest into the death of a poor Sudbury woman will be one of most revealing inquiries into how government policy affects poor people in Ontario, says the spokesperson for Sudbury's Committee to Remember Kimberly Rogers.
Dr. David Eden of the Ontario Coroner's Office announced Monday the inquest into the death of Kimberly Rogers will begin Monday, Oct. 7 in Sudbury.
Rogers, 40, was eight months pregnant when she died last summer. Rogers had been placed under house arrest for six months after pleading guilty of defrauding the provincial government of $13,000 in welfare while receiving student loans.
Rogers body was found in her West End apartment during the worst heat wave Sudbury had experienced in a decade.
The inquest will hear evidence about the circumstances surrounding her death and a jury is expected to make numerous recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths.
The coroner's office hasn't revealed the cause of death and won't until the inquest is held.
Jennifer Keck, a Laurentian professor in social work and spokesperson for the committee to remember Rogers, applauded the inquest announcement coming more than six months before it begins.
"Our committee has received calls from all across Canada," she said. "There are a lot of people very interested in this inquest and case...making the announcement now will give a lot of people time to prepare."
Besides revealing pertinent information about all the circumstances which led to the tragic death of Rogers, who graduated from Cambrian College as a mature student with high marks, Keck agrees the whole point of the inquest should be focused on ensuring no one else has to die a similar death.
"We want to get to the causes of what happened and secondly to put social public policies under public scrutiny to ensure this can never happen again," she said.
Once Rogers pleaded guilty to welfare fraud, her benefits, as called for under Tory policy, were automatically cut off for three months.
However, she and Toronto lawyer Sean Dewart launched a challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a Toronto judge reinstated her benefits until Dewart could prepare his challenge.
Rogers died a few weeks before the challenge before three judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice was set to be heard last September.
Dewart stated the government's actions in cutting off welfare benefits to a pregnant woman who was under house arrest constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Keck said Rogers is still considered "a hero and martyr" by other social assistance recipients for her willingness to stand up and fight the government while pregnant and without any money.
The vast majority of social assistance recipients like Rogers caught cheating the welfare system aren't criminals, but desperately poor people trying to survive, said Keck.
"This so-called crime happens because of a lack of money," she said. "The fact is with inflation factored in welfare recipients in Ontario are making 32 per cent less than when the Harris government took office in 1995.
"What happened to Kim Rogers was a disaster waiting to happen and the fact is some people are going to keep trying to cheat welfare because it's the only way they can survive."
Government policy hasn't changed and has in fact hardened with those caught cheating on welfare now banned for life from collecting benefits, said Keck.