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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

100 Women Who Care make a donation to Sylvan Lake Food Bank and Bethany Care Centre. Photo By Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News
100 Women Who Care donate to four Sylvan Lake groups

The Food Bank, Bethany Sylvan Lake, Community Partners and the Library all received a donation

RCMP. (Black Press File Photo)
Calgary man dies in two-vehicle collision near Sylvan Lake

A semi truck collided with a SUV just east of Hwy. 781 on Hwy 11.

Shaelynn Decock and her dog Taco, who has been missing since Aug. 26. Photo Submitted
Sylvan Lake woman looking for closure for her stolen dog

Shaelynn Decock says it has been two months since she last saw her dog Taco

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Most Read