Lawsuit: Kids left homeless

A Kelowna-based social worker misappropriated funds meant for aboriginal children in the provincial government’s care over the span of multiple years, alleges a pair of lawsuits filed Tuesday in BC Supreme Court.

The lawsuits filed in conjunction in Kelowna and Vancouver claims Robert Riley Saunders stole funds from children in his care by opening joint bank accounts and siphoning off money for his own expenses.

The lawsuits, one of which is a proposed class-action suit involving dozens of underage plaintiffs, names Saunders, the Ministry of Children and Family Development and Interior Savings as defendants.

“Saunders sought out and exploited aboriginal high-risk youth because he knew that his supervisors and managers and Interior Savings would not look closely at their affairs or adequately safeguard their interests,” one of the lawsuits alleges.

While the class-action lawsuit filed in Vancouver involves numerous underage plaintiffs, the civil claim filed in Kelowna involves just one — a West Kelowna resident that has now aged out of the system. Both lawsuits are nearly identical in their allegations.

Castanet News is not naming the West Kelowna plaintiff because his lawyer advises they will be seeking a publication ban on his name in the future.

“In early 2016, Saunders moved the plaintiff from a stable home environment into an unstable residential or independent living arrangement in order to make the plaintiff eligible for payment of certain financial benefits by the ministry,” the lawsuit claims.

“Saunders then opened a joint bank account with the plaintiff at Interior Savings. Saunders stole the funds deposited by the Ministry into a joint bank account by moving them to his own bank account at Interior Savings and by paying his personal expenses by electronic transfer from the joint bank account.”

Penticton-based lawyer Michael Patterson, who is representing the West Kelowna plaintiff, says the amount stolen from his client totals $47,000. It’s believed there could be more than 50 additional alleged victims involved in the class-action lawsuit with similar stories, should it be accepted.

Patterson said it's his understanding the Ministry has suspended Saunders. A Ministry spokesperson declined comment, due to the matter being before the courts.

The lawsuit goes on to allege that the victim was, at times, homeless because of Saunders' actions, and “was exploited due to his vulnerability.”

The claim alleges the Ministry and director of child welfare were negligent in its management and oversight of Saunders, and that it failed to move quickly enough to restrain him once the misconduct was uncovered.

Interior Savings is named in the lawsuit because the credit union “knew or ought to have known” that the joint accounts were only being accessed by Saunders, the lawsuit alleges.

Both claims are seeking general, punitive and aggravated damages as well as costs and an injunction requiring the defendants provide “financial, safety, health, therapeutic and education support” to the plaintiffs.

The provincial government, Robert Saunders and Interior Savings have not filed a response, and none of the allegations have been proven in court.

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