Lawsuits hit foster system

August 27, 2019

New allegations are being levelled at the Ministry of Children and Family Development in the Okanagan — this time, against the foster care system.

In a pair of lawsuits filed last week in B.C. Supreme Court, two former youth-in-care allege the foster care system set them up for a life of addiction and crime.

Bree-Anne Buhler, 25, entered the system after the courts ordered her removed from her home.

“The plaintiff was and is vulnerable to abuse, given her history of parental neglect, medical neglect… housing transiency and exposure to traumatic circumstances,” the lawsuit says.

The claim goes on  to allege Buhler was never afforded access to trauma counsellors and did not have her basic needs met. The Director of Child Welfare also failed to apply for benefits for which Buhler was entitled, the lawsuit continues.

The lawsuit claims the ministry failed to put any planning in place for when Buhler aged out of the system.

“The plaintiff was exposed to, periods without food, street homelessness, illicit drugs such as methamphetamine, crack, and cocaine, and was sexually exploited and assaulted as a result of the actions of the director,” the civil claim alleges.

Buhler was sentenced to more than two years in prison earlier this month for a pair of police chases. During her sentencing hearing, court heard she started using hard drugs at age 11 and was homeless by 14.

Her addiction remains severe, with multiple near-fatal overdoses. Her entanglements with the criminal justice system have seen her on probation for her entire adult life with her only clean time coming behind bars.

The other plaintiff, Kael Svendsen, has had his own struggles with the law. His lawsuit alleges an alcoholic foster parent provided him with booze at a young age, getting him hooked young and leading him to eventually transition to hard drugs.

“As a result of the plaintiff being intoxicated by alcohol, purchased by the foster parent, the plaintiff acted in a manner that caused her to notify the RCMP,” the lawsuit claims. “The foster parent admitted to supplying the plaintiff with alcohol.”

“The RCMP removed the plaintiff from the home of the defendant… and was subsequently homeless, hungry and became addicted to drugs,” the claim continues. “The plaintiff became involved in crime to afford food.”

The lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Michael Patterson, mostly declined to comment but hinted more lawsuits are on the way.

“We’ve been inundated with complaints in regards to foster homes,” he said. “Abuse that is taking place inside the foster care system, including overcrowding.”

Patterson is one of the lawyers representing numerous other plaintiffs suing the Ministry of Children and Family Development over a Kelowna social worker that is alleged to have stolen from aboriginal youth in his care.

Both Buhler and Svendsen’s lawsuits seek a variety of damages and compensation for loss of earnings.

The provincial government has not yet filed a response to the claims. None of the above allegations have been proven in court.