Kelowna courthouse. - Image Credit: Capital News file photo

Lawsuits allege B.C. government social worker stole from foster children

The lawsuits allege Indigenous children were removed from a stable environment to an unstable living arrangement so that their benefits could be stolen from them.

Lawsuits have been filed on behalf of two youth in British Columbia Supreme Court alleging a provincial social worker siphoned off thousands of dollars in financial benefits from children in care.

Both actions name social worker Robert Riley Saunders, the Ministry of Children and Family Development and Interior Savings Financial Services Ltd., alleging the Indigenous children were removed from a stable environment to an unstable living arrangement so that their benefits could be stolen from them.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Vancouver is a proposed class-action, alleging there were other children in care whom Saunders misappropriated funds or benefits or failed to provide adequate support, care of guardianship. The second lawsuit was filed in Kelowna on behalf of a youth who The Canadian Press is not naming.

None of the allegations has been proven in court and no statements of defence have been filed.

Saunders couldn’t be reached for comment, while the Children’s Ministry said in a statement it had no comment as the matter was before the court.

Corinne Johnson, manager of community engagement at Interior Savings, says in a statement that the institution takes its fiduciary responsibilities seriously.

“Because of privacy rules, we cannot speak to the specifics of any case. We are aware of this ongoing investigation and we are continuing to co-operate with authorities.”

Jason Gratl, the lawyer for the Vancouver plaintiff, only identified as R.O., alleges Saunders took funds meant for his client’s food, clothing and shelter.

“Many of them were made homeless and destitute,” Gratl says in an interview.

Related: Dad files Charter challenge after B.C. bans kids from taking transit unsupervised

Related: Caregivers banned from smoking, growing cannabis around children-in-care: MCFD

The lawsuits say Saunders ”engaged in the same and similar unlawful and inexcusable activities in respect of dozens of other children in his care, most of whom are Aboriginal children.”

Gratl alleges that as much as $40,000 each was taken from children between the ages of 15 and 19 and that the fraud had been going on for a minimum of four years.

“I don’t know what year it began in,” he says in the interview. “We just don’t know how deep this problem goes.”

The statements of claim allege that in early 2016, Saunders moved the children in order to make them eligible for financial benefits from the ministry and he opened joint bank accounts for each youth.

“Saunders stole the funds deposited by the ministry into joint bank accounts by moving them to his own individual account at Interior Savings and by paying his personal expenses by electronic transfer from the joint bank account,” the statements say.

They allege Saunders was aware of the youths’ vulnerability and aware that he exercises parental control over them.

“Saunders failed to ensure the plaintiff received adequate care and support, and failed to provide for the plaintiff’s for the basic needs,” the statements say.

The lawsuits say that Saunders exercised complete control over every aspects of the plaintiffs’ lives, including where they would live, access to family members, their cultural heritage, services and financial help.

The director of child welfare did not review Saunders’ files to check if he was carrying out his duties appropriately, the statements say.

“The director failed to implement adequate systems, restraints and controls to detect and prevent Saunders’ misappropriation of funds and benefits,” say the statements of claim.

The ministry didn’t have the systems to detect and prevent Saunders from taking the funds and once the misconduct was detected, the government failed to move quickly to restrain the man, the lawsuits say.

Interior Savings helped Saunders by having the children sign forms opening joint accounts but didn’t tell them that the accounts were with Saunders, the statements of claim allege.

“Because of his repeated transactions with Interior Savings’ employees, Interior Savings knew that Saunders was a government employee with a fixed salary and that the funds entering into his personal account were irregular and that his transactions patterns were irregular,” the statement says.

The lawsuits don’t specify a dollar figure, but ask for aggravated and punitive damages, the tracing of all funds taken and costs.

In order for the lawsuit in Vancouver to go ahead as a class-action proceeding it must first be certified by a judge.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Eckville’s season of giving continues with Santas Anonymous

The program provides gifts and food for families who need at Christmas time.

Eckville Library Silent Auction kicks off

The fifth annual fundraiser will run Nov. 20 to Dec. 7

Eckville wrestlers finish well at season’s first tournament

Many of the wrestlers finished in the top three at the competition

Eckville Aces finish on podium at Zones

The senior boys volleyball team competed in the Zones tournament in Lacombe on Nov. 16 and 17.

Eckville Sr. Eagles fly to victory

The Eagles defeated the Whitecourt Wild 6-2 on Nov. 17.

VIDEO: Shoppers like self-checkout lanes at the grocery store, survey suggests

Grocery Experience National Survey Report suggests most grocery shoppers spend 32 minutes per visit

Former NHL player and coach Dan Maloney dies at 68

Maloney coached the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets

Ex-MSU president charged with lying to police about Nassar

Lou Anna Simon was charged Tuesday with lying to police during an investigation

Police looking into two more incidents at private Toronto all-boys’ school

Police and the school have said two of the prior incidents involved an alleged sexual assault

25% of Canadians still won’t say they use pot, survey says

Statistics Canada poll says Canadians on average were 18.9 years old when they first tried pot.

The latest advent calendar trend: Holiday cannabis

A Canadian company is giving people from coast to coast a new way to celebrate the Christmas countdown.

Ponoka’s Caleb Shimwell arrested after pursuit

Police allege that Shimwell rammed a police cruiser

731,000 Canadians going into debt to buy prescription drugs: UBC

Millennials and those without private coverage were more likely to borrow money

Most Read