Interior Savings denies liability in suit alleging social worker stole money from clients | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Interior Savings denies liability in suit alleging social worker stole money from clients

Multiple civil suits have been filed against former Kelowna social worker Robert Riley Saunders.
Image Credit: Global Okanagan (with permission)
February 14, 2020 - 11:21 AM

In one of many ongoing civil suits against a former Kelowna social worker, the province has denied responsibility in response to the allegations of a young woman who says she was physically, psychologically and financially abused while she was a youth in foster care.

The woman, now 19 and living in Vancouver, filed a civil lawsuit Dec. 20, naming Kelowna social workers Robert Riley Saunders, Siobhan Stynes and Terra Plut as well as the director of Child, Family and Community Services, two parties identified only as John Doe and Jane Doe, Interior Savings and the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

"The plaintiff was harmed by Saunders and the other defendants' negligent social work and provision of foster care, by the misappropriation of funds and benefits designated for her care and needs and by their breach of trust and confidence," reads the suit. "The plaintiff's physical and psychological health suffered as a result of the defendants' acts and omissions. The plaintiff was sexually exploited and operated from and deprived of a relationship with her children. The plaintiff's trust and confidence in parental and authority figures has been severely compromised."

Throughout the suit, there are multiple accounts of sexual, physical and emotional abuse and neglect suffered as she navigated the system.

In a response to the suit filed Feb. 10, Interior Savings said it isn't responsible for the actions of Saunders, who committed the wrongful acts. Meanwhile, the province has clarified its defence to the case. It has previously admitting liability for the actions of the social workers but not for other actions like placing the plaintiff in foster care. 

The plaintiff alleges the province knew or should have known her foster parents were not capable to act as foster parents when she was placed in their care, but denied to act. The woman said they used “violence and excessive force” and their judgement was “clouded by alcohol consumption,” according to the civil suit. She then spent the next 12 years living with her biological father, who was abusive, she alleges in the suit.

The suit indicates that her situation got worse in March 2016 when she came in contact with the named social workers when she had her first child. He was taken from her because of her unstable conditions and placed in another home.

READ MORE: Multiple suits filed against Kelowna social worker

At that time she had asked to live independently, and not with relatives the child had been placed with because she had identified them as having "serious alcohol and drug problems." That request was denied and she moved in with them.

Within a year of that request, on Oct. 27, 2016, the father figure in the family she lived with overdosed on injection opioids in a child's bedroom in his own residence. A paramedic reported that he had a needle hanging from his arm and was resuscitated with Narcan.

That's when the director and the province finally cancelled her stay with the home she was in.

Then she allegedly fell victim to more abuse. The woman refused to be placed elsewhere, distrusting the system, and while effectively being homeless, developed a substance use disorder and, according to the suit, was sexually exploited.

On March 26, 2017 foster care intervention came again and an account was opened at Interior Savings Credit Union "on the pretext that Saunders would give the plaintiff's funds using the account," according to the suit.

"Saunders used the account to deposit cheques made out to the plaintiff that were intended to provide the plaintiff with funds for food, clothing and shelter. Saunders then transferred the plaintiff's funds to his own account and used the funds to pay for trips, vehicles and his own mortgage for himself and his family."

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

In court documents, the province said it is not liable for the actions of her foster parents or biological father and will deny that it was negligent in placing the plaintiff with her foster parents or biological father. In a separate civil suit filed in November the province admitted to the "vicarious liability for the acts and omissions" of Saunders.

In a response to the civil suit, Interior Savings Credit Union said the plaintiff agreed to open an Interior Savings Credit Union account with Saunders, that the transactions on the account could be authorized by her or Saunders and all monies would be considered joint property of the plaintiff and Saunders.

It continued that Saunders intentionally made “false and misleading statements” while engaging with Interior Savings Credit Union employees and that the credit union never had any knowledge of that fact that Saunders would use the account for reasons other than to permit the plaintiff to access funding from the Ministry of Children and Family Development or other sources.

Saunders has had 20 civil suits filed against him dating back to 2017. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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