Robert Riley Saunders. (File)

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)

Province agrees to multimillion-dollar payout for alleged victims of Kelowna social worker

Robert Riley Saunders is accused of misappropriating funds of children — often Indigenous — in his care

The province has reached a proposed settlement with more than 100 alleged victims of a former Kelowna social worker that could cost up to $15 million.

B.C. Supreme Court documents filed Tuesday, July 15, identified 107 potential victims who were overseen by Robert Riley Saunders while he was in a guardianship role with the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Ninety of those alleged victims are believed to be Indigenous. Two are dead and four have settled in separation actions.

Saunders was hired by the ministry in 1996 and transferred to Kelowna in 2001. He was fired in 2018.

Dozens of allegations against Saunders have come to light in the past few years through various civil claims. He is accused of misappropriating funds of children in his care through the use of joint bank accounts and plunging several of his clients into lives of addiction, homelessness and abuse.

READ MORE: Former Kelowna social worker sued again for allegedly stealing from foster children

READ MORE: More allegations against second social worker accused of abusing the trust of Okanagan youth

The settlement will see each of the 102 class members receive $25,000, with an additional $44,000 provided to Indigenous clients. On top of that, clients could apply for additional funds if they suffered sexual exploitation ($75,000), psychological harm ($45,000), homelessness ($25,000), educational delay ($50,000 over 3 years; $20,000 1-3 years) and bodily harm ($15,000). The maximum settlement any one of Saunders’ former clients could receive is $250,000.

Jason Gratl, the lawyer for the plaintiff, said the total compensation could come out between $12 million and $15 million. Gratl also mentioned the allegations date back to 2001 and there may be more children involved. But poor or false records were kept.

“The records created by Riley Sanders tended to be false and self-serving because Riley Saunders was known to be a con-artist and a self-serving fraudster,” Gratl said in an interview Wednesday.

He said employment records show that Saunders was insensitive to Aboriginal culture and history, yet he was assigned to work with high-risk Indigenous children by the ministry.

The ministry wasn’t immediately available for comment and Saunders has never commented on the allegations or filed a statement of defence in court.

In its reply to the lawsuit filed in court, the ministry admitted to “vicarious liability” for the acts and omissions of Saunders.

The reply said the ministry detected financial irregularities involving Saunders in December 2017 and he was suspended a month later.

“Steps were taken under the direction of the local (ministry) office to ensure the immediate safety and well-being of the children, youth and young adults on the caseload of Mr. Saunders,” stated the response to the civil claim.

The prosecution service said it has received a report on Saunders from the RCMP and possible charges are being assessed.

Two lawsuits filed against the province and Saunders in 2018, alleged Saunders moved the children from their homes in order to make them eligible for financial benefits from the ministry, then opened joint bank accounts for each youth.

“Saunders stole the funds deposited by the ministry into 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 statements said.

They also alleged Saunders was aware of the youths’ vulnerability and aware that he exercised parental control over them

After the allegations against Saunders became public, he disappeared from Kelowna. He has never been served with any of the dozens of civil suits he is facing.

Gratl said Saunders was recently believed to be working at a golf resort in Alberta.

A certification hearing for the class action is scheduled for July 28. If approved, it would allow an individual’s case to stand in for all the class members.

A decision from the court on approval of the settlement is expected after the certification hearing.

The province has launched its own suit against Saunders to recuperate some of its lost funds.

– With files from the Canadian Press

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: michael.rodriguez@kelownacapnews.com


@michaelrdrguez
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC governmentIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
57 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

Thirty people in the region are in hospital, 16 of whom are in intensive care

Details will be made available in the next few days. (File photo)
Community vaccine program to open in Golden

This would make the vaccine available to those 18+

A hummingbird gives its wings a rare rest while feeding in a North Okanagan garden. (Karen Siemens/North Okanagan Naturalists Club)
Hummingbirds back for another Okanagan season

North America’s littlest birds return, and they’re hungry

Red dresses have been hung along Highway 95 to raise awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. (Claire Palmer photo)
Columbia River Métis Society honour Red Dress day

The day raises awareness for the plight of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women

HWY 95 south of Golden will be getting improved cell service. (File photo)
Better cell service coming to Highway 95

Improved connectivity just south of town is expected with new funding

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

(Kingfisher Boats photo)
In the market for a boat in the North Okanagan? Be prepared to wait

Vernon’s Kingfisher Boats is out of 2021 models, with many 2022 models already pre-sold

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

George Ryga, considered by many as Canada’s most important English playwright lived in Summerland from 1963 until his death in 1987. He is the inspiration for the annual Ryga Arts Festival. (Contributed)
Summerland archive established for George Ryga

Renowned author wrote novels, poetry, stage plays and screen plays from Summerland home

Most Read