B.C. admits ‘vicarious liability’ for ‘fraud’ committed by Kelowna social worker

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A former B.C. social worker is being accused of fraud after several teens filed a civil suit against him. The papers claim, in part, that Saunders would force the teens under the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development to open joint accounts with him, allowing him access to their government benefits – Nov 22, 2018

There’s a mixture of admission, deflection and denial in a response to a civil claim that the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development filed on Thursday.

The case involves a young person identified only as R.O, and the claim targets the Ministry of Children and Family Development and Director of Child Welfare, Robert Riley Saunders, and Interior Savings Financial Services Ltd.

In the response, B.C. admitted that a social worker defrauded the child of funds and ultimately caused the plaintiff to suffer.

“The Province admits vicarious liability for the acts and omissions of Mr. Saunders,” the filing states.

The court papers claimed that in early 2016, Saunders had a First Nations youth placed in an independent living arrangement under ministry care.

The teen was then eligible for financial benefits from the ministry.

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The plaintiff alleged that Saunders opened a joint bank account with the young person and withdrew money for his own purposes.

The financial institution where Saunders did his banking is also being named a defendant in the case for failing to recognize banking irregularities.

While information has been forwarded to RCMP, Saunders has not been charged criminally.

Verbal and emotional abuse are among the allegations against Saunders.

The Province said it has no direct knowledge of the extent of the behaviour but admitted there was “at least some verbal and emotional abuse of the plaintiff.”

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“The Province has no knowledge of the full nature and extent of the harm to the plaintiff, but admits the alleged acts or omissions of Mr. Saunders caused or substantially contributed to the harm of the plaintiff,” the filing said.

The teen eventually found himself in a transient and sometimes homeless living situation.

The ministry found financial irregularities involving Saunders in December 2017. He was suspended upon returning from his vacation in January 2018, it said.

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“Steps were taken under the direction of the local MCFD office to ensure the immediate safety and well-being of the children, youth and young adults on the caseload of Mr. Saunders,” the ministry said.

The teen was offered services and housing, a situation which the ministry said stabilized in July 2018.

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The ministry claimed Saunders admitted to the conversion of funds and a forensic auditor determined that he committed fraud.

A list of affected minors was sent to the Public Guardian and Trustee in March, according to the court document.

The statement said Saunders was fired in May 2018 and in September, the Director obtained a six-month protective intervention order to prevent Saunders from contacting the plaintiff and other minors.

While the ministry has hired a financial consulting firm to conduct a review of its financial and internal controls, MCFC launched its own review of the contracting and payment process involved in the allegations.

The province denied that it failed to inform or respond to the situation in a timely way and disagreed with punitive damages but it did agree to general damages that would be paid to the plaintiff.

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~with files from Kimberly Davidson

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