Robert Riley Saunders. Image: Facebook

Province admits vicarious liability in case of Kelowna social worker who allegedly stole from children

The statement was released Dec. 13

The provincial government is admitting it played a role in the case of the Kelowna social worker who allegedly defrauded children in his care.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development filed its response to a lawsuit filed by the public guardian and trustee that claimed Robert Riley Saunders stole from children, primarily Aboriginal, who were in his care when he worked for the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development.

“The province admits that Saunders was negligent, defalcated and converted the Plaintiff’s funds, committed misfeasance in public office, fraud and breached fiduciary duties owed to the Plaintiff and further admits the Plaintiff suffered harm as a result,” reads the response. “The province admits vicarious liability for the acts and omissions of Saunders.”

The ministry said it will work with the youths’ lawyers to “address these matters in a manner that does not cause further trauma to the affected individuals.

In the class-action suit filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Nov. 6, the public guardian and trustee alleged Saunders manipulated the teenagers into an “independent living” program, but then kept the money, leaving them vulnerable to becoming homeless.

They allege Saunders took money from joint bank accounts he set up with the youths, some of whom are now adults, when they were in his care as a ministry employee. In addition to alleging Saunders took money from the joint accounts, the lawsuits claim he was “verbally and emotionally abusive” to the three plaintiffs while he worked with them and “succeeded in undermining their self-confidence and self esteem.”

RELATED: Lawsuits allege B.C. government social worker stole from foster children

The plaintiffs claim they were exposed to periods without food, street homelessness and illicit drug use, using drugs such as methamphetamine and crack cocaine, as a result of Saunders’ actions. One plaintiff also claimed she was sexually exploited as a result their actions.

RELATED: More lawsuits filed against former Kelowna social worker

In the ministry’s response they admit vicarious liability for the actions of the social worker in question, and agree that general damages and court-ordered interest for the plaintiff is appropriate.

Since the allegations first came to light, the ministry has offered supports and services, including counselling, to the children and youth who were affected by the social worker’s actions. MCFD will work with the plaintiffs’ counsel to address these matters in a manner that does not cause further trauma to the affected individuals.

The government claims to have no knowledge of the extent of the alleged verbal and emotional abuse of the Plaintiff or his alleged state of mind but acknowledges that it happened.

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