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

West Central Peewee Tigers crowned SCAHL league champions

The Tigers are set to continue their dominating season at Peewee AA Provincials March 28

PHOTOS: Sylvan Lake skaters use all the colours of the rainbow at showcase

The Sylvan Lake Figure Skating Club hosted its showcase, ‘Colours,’ on March 17.

SLIDESHOW: Sylvan Lake’s Kites on Ice a colourful success

The cultural event featured a colour party for the “festival of love” Holi.

Sylvan Lake maintaining a stable housing market

There are 168 residential properties available in Sylvan’s current “buyer’s market”

PHOTOS: Sylvan Lake’s Mother Teresa, H.J. Cody meet on the court

Mother Teresa’s senior basketball teams played H.J.Cody’s junior teams in exhibition games on March 13

Defiant vigil starts healing in New Zealand after massacre

Police say the gunman in the shooting that killed 50 acted alone

Notley’s government puts priority on health care in throne speech

Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell kicked off the legislature session

NDP’s Jagmeet Singh steps into the House of Commons, making history

Burnaby South MP becomes first visible minority to lead a federal party in the House of Commons

B.C. argues it cannot stop Trans Mountain, but it can protect environment

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says only Ottawa has the authority to decide what goes in trans-boundary pipelines

Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick retires in wake of SNC-Lavalin case

Jody Wilson-Raybould accused Wernick of pressuring her to head off criminal charges for the firm

Dutch tram shooting suspect arrested, say police

Police say three people were killed in the shooting Monday and five wounded

Canada extends Iraq and Ukraine military missions to 2021 and 2022

Extension is part of efforts to curb Russian aggression and to fight against Islamic militants

WestJet suspends 2019 financial guidance after Boeing 737 Max grounded

The company has 13 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft grounded by regulators after the Ethiopian crash

Trudeau fills vacancy in cabinet with B.C. MP Joyce Murray

Murray, 64, was elected in 2008 and served previously as a minister in B.C.’s provincial government

Most Read