More victims come forward

A Kelowna social worker accused of stealing from Aboriginal children in his care is facing a new set of allegations.

A trio of new civil lawsuits were filed Wednesday in Kelowna court against Robert Saunders by three women that were previously youth in his care — two alleging theft of money from joint bank accounts and a third alleging general negligence as a social worker.

The claims are similar to a pair of lawsuits earlier this month that rocked the Ministry of Children and Family Development, a named defendant on all the claims.

“Saunders was verbally and emotionally abusive to the plaintiff,” one of the newly-filed lawsuits states, adding the abuse “was intended to and succeeded in undermining the plaintiff’s self-confidence and self-esteem, and undermined her belief that she might be entitled to any form of financial support from the state.”

All three lawsuits allege the teenage girls were exposed to periods of homelessness, hunger, narcotics and, in one case, sexual exploitation.

The suits also name Saunders’ direct supervisor, Siobhan Stynes, alleging Stynes “had direct knowledge” of the theft of money and alleged abuse of the kids in Saunders’ care.

Stynes also “directly inflicted emotional and psychological abuse on” the three plaintiffs, say the lawsuits.

As alleged in the civil claims earlier this month, two of Wednesday’s lawsuits also claim the teenage girls were coerced into opening joint bank accounts with Saunders, who used the money for his own expenses.

With the new lawsuits, Saunders is now on the receiving end of five civil claims alleging he was abusive to or stole from youth in his care. Four have been filed by now-adults that have aged out of the system, while the other is a proposed class-action suit on behalf of numerous underage children. Lawyers says more are likely to be filed.

The Office of the Representative of Children and Youth says they have 14 advocacy files they are looking into, and there could be more victims. An RCMP investigation is underway.

Castanet News is not naming the adult plaintiffs in any of the lawsuits because lawyers advise a publication ban will be sought in the future.

Saunders is no longer working as a social worker, but was found by Castanet News to be employed in adult special education at Okanagan College’s Kelowna office.

In a statement shortly after the first two lawsuits were filed, the provincial government said financial irregularities were first brought to their attention in December 2017. “Steps were taken” in January 2018 to ensure "the immediate safety and well-being of the children and youth, and their families."

The lawsuits, however, allege the ministry didn’t move fast enough to “restrain Saunders… which exacerbated and prolonged the harms caused.”

The claims allege negligence within the Ministry, right up to Victoria, for failing to properly supervise staff.

None of the above allegations have been proven in court. Saunders still has not filed a response to the original lawsuits.

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