British Columbia·CBC Investigates

3 more Indigenous youth accuse B.C. social worker of exploitation

Three Aboriginal teenagers have filed lawsuits against a B.C. social worker for alleged emotional and psychological abuse.

Lawsuits from 3 teenage girls claim Robert Riley Saunders' team leader knew about abuse

Three Aboriginal teenagers have filed lawsuits against social worker Robert Riley Saunders for allegedly taking money from vulnerable First Nations youth. (Facebook)

Three Aboriginal teenage girls have filed lawsuits against a B.C. social worker for alleged emotional and psychological abuse.

The claims mean a total of five youth have now filed actions in B.C. Supreme Court against Robert Riley Saunders for allegedly using his position to cut them off from family support and deprive them of funds.

The three latest lawsuits were filed in Kelowna this week by teenagers who claim they were placed in the care of the province by continuing custody orders.

Two of the girls claim Saunders opened joint bank accounts with them and then siphoned off funds for his own benefit. All three claim they went homeless and hungry as a result of the alleged abuse, with exposure to methamphetamine, crack and cocaine.

One of the girls claims she was sexually exploited as a result of Saunders' actions.

Ministry alerted in December 2017

All three of the latest lawsuits include Saunders' team leader as a defendant, claiming that she "had direct knowledge of the emotional and psychological abuse inflicted on the plaintiff."

Neither Saunders nor the Ministry of Children and Family Development have responded to any of the claims yet. But the ministry has issued a timeline with regards to the allegations and an internal investigation.

B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Jennifer Charlesworth has opened 14 files in relation to allegations that a social worker abused his position to exploit vulnerable teens. (InWithForward)

According to that document, the ministry was made aware of financial irregularities last December and in January 2018 "steps were taken" to "ensure the immediate safety and well-being of the children, youth and young adults who may have been affected."

The ministry notified the Public Guardian and Trustee in March 2018. The public guardian's office hired a lawyer to file one of the lawsuits — a proposed class action — earlier this month. The lawyer estimates that as many as 90 children could be involved.

Saunders is no longer working for the ministry.

RCMP also investigating

B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth is also investigating the allegations. She claims to have opened files in relation to 14 youth.

The three lawsuits filed this week are all mostly identical.

They claim the province's director of child welfare failed to conduct reviews of Saunders and his team leader to detect whether they were carrying out their duties appropriately.

They also claim that his team "did not hold the weekly and monthly consultation with Saunders as required by policy."

The RCMP have also confirmed an ongoing investigation into the allegations. Police say they have identified several alleged victims. No charges have been filed.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.