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Proposed settlement worth millions in Kelowna social worker case

Click to play video: 'If approved, a settlement reached between the B.C. Government and former clients of a Kelowna social worker,  accused of stealing money from foster children, could cost the Province $15 million.'
If approved, a settlement reached between the B.C. Government and former clients of a Kelowna social worker, accused of stealing money from foster children, could cost the Province $15 million.
If approved, a settlement reached between the B.C. Government and former clients of a Kelowna social worker, accused of stealing money from foster children, could cost the Province $15 million – Jul 15, 2020

A settlement involving millions of dollars is being proposed in a class-action lawsuit against a former B.C. social worker accused of stealing.

On Tuesday, B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development filed documents in Supreme Court regarding the civil case against it and former social worker Robert Riley Saunders of Kelowna.

Saunders is alleged to have stolen money from clients who were under his care from 2001 until his firing in 2018.

Read more: B.C. social worker accused of stealing from kids in ministry care

The documents propose minimum and maximum settlements for Saunders’ clients, with payments starting at $25,000 and capped at $250,000.

Court documents listed the number of class-action members at 107, though two have died while another four have opted out.

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The documents also said of the 107 estimated class-action members, 90 are estimated to be Indigenous or of Indigenous ancestry.

Click to play video: 'Former B.C. social worker facing more allegations'
Former B.C. social worker facing more allegations

In an email to Global News, the B.C. Prosecution Service says it cannot comment on civil proceedings, but noted that an RCMP is currently undergoing charge assessment.

In filing the documents, the ministry is basing payments under two umbrellas: Basic payments and elevated damages.

Under basic payments, there are two amounts: $25,000 for all individuals, and $69,000 for those eligible for Indigenous basic payment.

Under elevated damages, there are five categories:

  • Sexual exploitation, $75,000
  • Psychological harm, $45,000
  • Homelessness, $25,000
  • Educational delay, $20,000 for 1-3 years, $50,000 over 3 years
  • Bodily harm, $15,000

The maximum cap on elevated damages would be $181,000, with the maximum cap on basic payments and elevated damages being $250,000.

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

The documents note that a credit union that was named as a defendant was removed as a party on June 4, 2020, and that Saunders has not filed a response to the civil claim, although he was served.

They also say Jason Gratl of the law firm Gratl and Company in Vancouver was appointed council for the plaintiff and the other class-action members.

In describing the payments, the document said “the existence of these patterns is acknowledged in the settlement agreement,” before describing the five elevated damages categories.

For example, in the homeless category, the documents said “Riley Saunders misappropriated funds allocated for payment of rent by class members, which had the effect of rendering them homeless or perpetuating their homelessness.

“In addition to misappropriating funds, Riley Saunders failed to extend supports, including counselling, mental health and addictions support to class members he knew to be homeless.”

Read more: Ministry responds to allegations that social worker stole from kids in government care

The documents continued, saying many class members who were inadequately supported and sheltered experienced sexual assault, physical assault, delayed education, self-harm, trauma and developed substance abuse as a result of Saunders’ neglect and misappropriation.

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“The acknowledged existence of these categories of elevated damages underscore the shared issues common to all class members, which stem from the indiscriminate neglect, indifference, abusiveness and selfishness of Riley Saunders to the children subject to his discretion.”

The next court date will be July 28, 2020, in Vancouver at 10 a.m.

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