B.C. could pay up to $15M in Indigenous foster care fraud settlement

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B.C.’s Supreme Court has approved the settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed by Indigenous foster children who were defrauded of government aid.

Former Kelowna, B.C., social worker Robert Riley Saunders has not responded to charges against him and his current location is unknown. (Facebook)

B.C.’s Supreme Court has approved the settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed by Indigenous foster children who were defrauded of government aid.

Anyone who was in the care of Kelowna-based social worker Robert Riley Saunders will receive between $25,000 and $250,000. 

The province could pay out as much as $15 million in the scandal.  

In more than a dozen individual lawsuits filed in the lead-up to the agreement, former clients accused Saunders of moving them from stable, loving homes into independent living situations and then using joint bank accounts to take money provided by B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development for their care between 2001 and 2018.

Many claim they were left homeless as a result, subject to physical and sexual abuse and plunged into desperate lives of addiction and pain.

The ministry admitted harm in settlement documents.  

Victims urged to come forward

Plaintiff lawyer Jason Gratl says just over 100 victims have come forward to register claims, but he still doesn’t know how many foster kids Saunders defrauded.

“The high-risk Aboriginal division of the Kelowna office of the Ministry of Child and Family Development was notorious for poor record keeping,” Gratl told CBC News.

Anyone, Indigenous or not, who was on Saunders’s foster care roster is asked to come forward.  

Gratl’s law firm has posted details of the case and eligibility for compensation on its website. The ruling by Justice Alan Ross released last week approved the settlement originally proposed by the B.C. government last July. Former clients have until Oct. 23, 2022, to apply. 

“The settlement agreement itself … is a well structured, trauma-informed, process designed to avoid re-injuring class members that have suffered a great deal,” said Gratl.

Independent adjudicators will determine a victim’s compensation, depending on the circumstances of the case.

Financial advice will also be provided to victims.

Anyone who was in Saunders’s care will receive between $25,000 and $250,000.  (David Horemans/CBC)

Whereabouts unknown

Gratl says while victims welcome compensation, many are still awaiting criminal justice.

Saunders has faced an RCMP investigation, but no criminal charges have been filed.

Saunders’s current location is unknown and he has not responded to any court action.

Gratl says anonymous callers have informed his law firm that Sanders has been working at golf courses in Calgary and Winnipeg.

“He appears to be working his way east to escape his infamy,” said Gratl. “He’s behaving like a fugitive.”

An RCMP report on the matter is “currently undergoing charge assessment,” by Crown counsel, according to a statement from the B.C. Prosecution Service.  

“We do not have a timeline for the completion of this process.”  

CBC News reached out to B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development, the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, and to the attorney general for comment, but did not receive immediate responses.

With a file from Canadian Press

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