Robert Saunders hit with another possible class-action lawsuit

Saunders, MCFD sued again

Robert Riley Saunders could be facing yet another class action lawsuit after another civil suit was filed against him earlier this week.

A former Ministry of Children and Family Development child protection worker, Saunders allegedly stole thousands of dollars from youth in his care in Kelowna over a period of several years.

While the province has agreed to settle a massive class action lawsuit for Saunders' actions, which could see upwards of $8 million paid out to former youth in his care, a new proposed class action suit is focused around youth in Saunders' care who aged out of the government's care and weren't offered any supports.

Children age out of government care in B.C. when they turn 19. The province has a Young Adults Program that is supposed to provide former youth in care between the age of 19 and 26 up to four years of support services and financial assistance to help them complete post-secondary courses or other educational programs. Young adults can receive up to $1,250 per month to cover living expenses while going to school.

In his recent suit, Zackary Alphonse, a 29-year-old Indigenous man, says Saunders and another Ministry employee who's only referred to as “John Doe” never informed Alphonse of the Young Adults Program and left him without any support after he aged out of government care.

“Denied the option of entering the Young Adults Program, the plaintiff became homeless for a period of about a month,” Alphonse's suit states.

At the time, the 19-year-old had only completed up to his Grade 9 education, but without financial support, he was unable to work on his graduate equivalency degree, or GED.

“For approximately one year, the plaintiff could see no future for himself, felt hopeless and became depressed and unable to advance his interests," the suit states.

Despite the lack of support he was entitled to, Alphonse “gradually stabilized his working life over the next six or seven years.”

At age 27, he began an online high school equivalency course and a technical certification in computer repair, all while working full time. Now, at 29, he only needs three more courses to get his GED.

“If the plaintiff had been informed of the existence of and his eligibility for the Young Adults Program and had been provided with assistance in applying for the program, the plaintiff would have started his adult education much earlier and advanced his work goals at a better pace,” the suit states.

To add insult to injury, Alphonse received a letter from the MCFD this past summer informing him he may be eligible for the Young Adults Program. This was the first Alphonse had heard of the program, but when Alphonse followed up with the Ministry, he was told he was too old to qualify.

He is seeking to be reimbursed for the cost of his future education, along with general, aggravated and punitive damages.

Alphonse's notice of civil claim states that the failure of the Ministry to provide him with the supports he was entitled to “has a discriminatory effect on Indigenous persons who have aged of out of care, which manifests in lower rates of program uptake for Indigenous persons and lower levels of educational attainment for Indigenous persons.”

As such, Alphonse is looking to certify his claim as a class action suit, to get others compensated who faced the same challenges as he did.

The suit says extending supports to former children in care who were not given access to the Young Adults Program will save the government money in the long run, “by reducing reliance on income assistance, unemployment and low-income work and reducing the prevalence of mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety, in former children in care."

The Ministry, nor Saunders, has yet to file an official response to Alphonse's suit.

Saunders, who faked his social work degree, is currently facing 13 criminal charges for allegedly stealing from youth in his care over several years. He remains out of custody on bail, and he will make his next Kelowna court appearance next week.

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