Ontario ends lifetime ban on welfare cheats

Jan 09, 2004




Ontario's Liberal government carried through on an election promise Friday, saying it is repealing a lifetime ban on new social assistance payments for people who have been caught cheating the system.

The former Conservative government had introduced the controversial measure to crack down on welfare fraud.

It came under fire after a pregnant woman, Kimberley Rogers, died in her Sudbury apartment during a 2001 heat wave while she was under house arrest for collecting both welfare and student loans.

An inquest into the 40-year-old's death concluded last year, ruling it a suicide caused partly by her desperation over finances.

Premier Dalton McGuinty's social services minister, Sandra Pupatello, said the province still has a "zero tolerance" policy on prosecuting cases of welfare fraud. Overpayments will be docked from future welfare cheques, she said.

Still, the decision to scrap the lifetime ban was welcomed by welfare support groups.

Activist Jacquie Chic, a director at the Income Security Legal Clinic in Toronto, said the Liberals were right to recognize that people can't be left without any income at all.

"Social assistance is income of last resort; it's what you turn to when there's nothing else," she said. "If you take that away, essentially you're deeming someone to be in a position where they can't get resources from anywhere."