The proposed class action lawsuit was filed in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. A separate action was filed in B.C. Supreme Court in Kelowna. (David Horemans/CBC) A proposed class action lawsuit has been filed against a B.C. social worker accused of abusing his position by siphoning funds from the bank account of a vulnerable First Nations teenager.
The B.C. Supreme Court notice of civil claim accuses Robert Riley Saunders of moving the girl from a stable home into an independent living situation that would see her collect money from the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
The claim says Saunders then opened a joint bank account with the girl and "stole the funds deposited by the ministry into the joint bank accounts by moving them to his own individual account."
"She’s a teenager. And she was rendered homeless, transient as a result of the fraud against her," said Jason Gratl, the girl’s lawyer.
"The impact has been very severe. She was vulnerable to exploitation as a result of being homeless and was, in fact, exploited." ‘Dozens of other children’
The proposed class action was filed on behalf of B.C.’s Public Guardian and Trustee, who acts as the teen’s guardian. She is known as R.O.
The defendants include Saunders, the ministry and the bank where the account was allegedly opened.
Gratl estimates that between 25 and 90 children could be eligible to be part of the suit if accepted. The notice of civil claim for the proposed class action lawsuit claims ‘dozens of other children’ were involved. (Roman Bodnarchuk/Shutterstock) The court document claims Saunders "engaged in the same and similar unlawful and inexcusable activities in respect of dozens of other children in his care, most of whom are Aboriginal children."
The Ministry of Children and Family Development would not comment on the case as it is before the courts. Saunders could not be reached for comment.
The notice of civil claim was filed in Vancouver on the same day as another action containing similar allegations was filed in Kelowna.
The plaintiff in that action — N.D. — is now an adult. But because he was a First Nations youth in the care of the province at the time of the allegations, his lawyer said he plans to ask the court for anonymity in the future. ‘Complete control over every aspect of (her) life’
According to the claim filed by R.O., she was moved to an independent living situation in 2016. She claims she was manipulated into opening a joint bank account, and that Saunders failed to ensure she had adequate care and support.
"Saunders was verbally and emotionally abusive to the plaintiff. Saunders derided the plaintiff and her family," the notice of claim says.
"Saunders had complete control over every aspect of the plaintiff’s life, including where the plaintiff would live, the plaintiff’s access to family members, the plaintiff’s access to services and financial assistance and the plaintiff’s connection to … her cultural heritage." The B.C. Supreme Court proposed class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of B.C.’s Public Guardian and Trustee who acts as the plaintiff’s guardian. (Canadian Press) According to the notice of civil claim, R.O.’s physical and psychological health suffered because of the alleged actions and "her trust and confidence in parental authority have been severely compromised."
R.O. claims the provincial director of child welfare is also at fault.
"The director failed to implement adequate systems, restraints and controls to detect and prevent Saunders’ misappropriation of funds and benefits," the lawsuit reads."The director failed to conduct reviews of Saunders’ files to detect whether Saunders was carrying out his duties appropriately and in accordance with the plaintiff’s best interests." Aboriginal high-risk […]
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