A former Kelowna social worker is facing yet another lawsuit

Saunders, MCFD sued again

A former Kelowna social worker has been accused of stealing from yet another vulnerable Indigenous youth who was in his care.

Lawyer Michael Patterson has filed multiple suits against Robert Riley Saunders, the Ministry of Children and Family Development and Interior Savings on behalf of several clients over the past year, all alleging Saunders stole ministry funds that were meant to go to the youth in his care.

Last week, he filed another suit against the three parties, on behalf of a client Castanet has chosen not to identify due to her young age.

“Saunders stole the funds deposited by the ministry into the 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 notice of civil claim states.

“The plaintiff was and is vulnerable to abuse given her history of neglect, medical neglect, transiency and exposure to traumatic circumstances.”

The suit alleges Saunders was verbally and emotionally abusive to the young woman in an effort to undermine her self-confidence and self-esteem.

“(Saunders) undermined her belief that she might be entitled to any form of financial support from the state for her subsistence level of material well-being, such as food, clothing or shelter,” the suit states.

As a result of Saunders' actions, the young woman allegedly became homeless, was sexually exploited, and was exposed to methamphetamine and cocaine.

The allegations echo previous suits filed against Saunders, alleging he targeted Indigenous high-risk youth “because he knew that his supervisors and managers and Interior Savings would not look too closely at their affairs or adequately safeguard their interests.”

Patterson alleges Saunders engaged in “the same and similar unlawful and inexcusable activities” with dozens of other children in his care.

Dr. Jennifer Charlesworth, B.C.'s representative for children and youth, told Castanet more than 40 children may have been victimized by Saunders.

The recent suit also alleges the MCFD and the Director of Child Welfare failed to hold the required weekly and monthly consultations with Saunders that would have detected his alleged crimes, while adding that Interior savings failed to explain to the youth that they had opened joint bank accounts with Saunders.

Earlier this year, Castanet learned Saunders appears to have lied about his qualifications; Saunders claimed to have degrees from the University of Manitoba – but the university says they have no record of him graduating from the school.

In May, MCFD executive director Barry Fulton, along with two other employees, were fired in the wake of the allegations.

Last December, the MCFD admitted “vicarious liability” for the actions of Saunders alleged in the suits at that time, and agreed that general damages and court-ordered interest was appropriate for Saunders' alleged victims.

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