Credit union denies blame

The credit union caught up in lawsuits against a Kelowna social worker accused of stealing from Indigenous children in his care says it is not responsible for the money allegedly stolen out of joint bank accounts accessed by the social worker.

Interior Savings filed a third-party notice earlier this month, claiming the provincial government or Robert Riley Saunders should be held responsible for the money he allegedly withdrew from joint accounts he opened with youth in his care.

The third-party claim alleges Saunders intentionally made “false and misleading statements to representatives of Interior Savings in relation to the purpose of the account, in order to engage in the fraudulent use of services."

In its separate response to the lawsuit, Interior Savings said representatives were clear with the plaintiff that the account would be able to be accessed by Saunders when it was opened in December 2015.

The credit union added it had no idea the account would be used for fraudulent purposes and the institution met all its obligations under the Credit Union Incorporation Act.

Saunders is alleged in multiple lawsuits to have coerced Indigenous youth in his care to open joint accounts where funds from the Ministry of Children and Family Development were deposited.

The lawsuits claim Saunders stole tens of thousands of dollars from each child, leaving them homeless in some cases. 

One of the lawsuits is a proposed class-action claim on behalf of several underage plaintiffs brought by the Public Guardian and Trustee. 

The provincial government has already admitted “vicarious liability" for the alleged actions of Saunders in its response to the class-action suit earlier this month. The lawyer who brought that case will be meeting with the province in the coming weeks to negotiate an appropriate settlement.

Saunders himself has not yet filed a response to the civil lawsuits, despite the deadline to do so passing weeks ago.

Lawyers appear to now be having trouble tracking him down, with a hearing scheduled for January 7 in Kelowna, where one of the plaintiffs will apply to serve Saunders with her lawsuit via alternate methods.

Saunders “has been unable to be located at his residence, work, or via phone for service,” the application filed Dec. 19 states.

The social worker was terminated by the provincial government in May, six months after the situation was first discovered by MCFD.

He is now working in adult special education at Okanagan College in Kelowna. When contacted by Castanet News shortly after the first lawsuits against him were filed he declined to comment.

The RCMP has also previously confirmed it is investigating the matter.

None of the above allegations have been proven in court.

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