Former B.C. social worker pleads guilty to stealing money from at risk Indigenous youth

Robert Riley Saunders was facing 13 charges against young people.

Robert Riley Saunders

Robert Riley Saunders was a social worker with the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Facebook.

A former social worker with the B.C. ministry of children and family development in Kelowna pleaded guilty to three counts Monday according to the B.C. Prosecution Service.

“On September 27 Mr. Saunders entered guilty pleas to three counts on the indictment.  Count 1, fraud over $5000 against the Province of BC (Ministry of Children and Family Development); count 3, breach of trust in connection with his duties as a child protection guardianship worker; and count 4, causing the Province of BC to act on a forged document.  The matter has been adjourned to March 21 for the sentencing hearing.” an email from a spokesperson said,

“We anticipate that the outstanding charges will be stayed at the completion of that hearing.  As the matter remains before the court there will be no further comment at this time.”

Robert Riley Saunders was charged with stealing money from at risk youth who were mainly Indigenous teenagers. Saunders faced 13 criminal charges, “including ten counts of fraud over $5,000, one count of theft over $5,000, one count of breach of trust, and one count of uttering a forged document,” according to the media release from the Kelowna RCMP sent Dec. 4, 2020.

In a statement released Tuesday with the headline “justice denied” the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) panned the deal calling it “frustrating” and Saunders “privileged.”

“Today the (in)justice system once again has told us that Indigenous lives don’t matter there. We stand with his victims and their families as they are left to process this disgusting deal,” said Chief Don Tom, vice president of the UBCIC in the statement.

AFN Regional Chief Terry Teegee said the justice system protected Saunders from the beginning.

“All along the way Saunders has been protected by colonial and racist systems,” said Teegee. “When he was finally arrested, we spoke out and expressed dim hopes that there would be actual justice served for Saunders victims, and that the BC Prosecution Service consider the severe impacts his actions had on the lives – and deaths – of so many vulnerable Indigenous youth. Instead, we see another situation where the lives of Indigenous children are dismissed, and the interests of a privileged white man are protected.

“As long as these systems and structures continue to uphold genocide under the guise of justice, reconciliation will forever remain a buzz word.”

According to one of the claimants in a class-action lawsuit filed in 2018, against the province and Saunders, the social worker “sought out and exploited Aboriginal high-risk youth because he knew his supervisors and managers would not look closely at their affairs or adequately safeguard their interests.”

The claim also alleges that Saunders, “was verbally and emotionally abusive and undermined her belief that she might be entitled to any form of financial support from the state for her subsistence level of material well-being, such as food, clothing or shelter.”

The province settled the lawsuit against it and Saunders in 2020 and paid out tens of thousands of dollars to affected former clients. According to that lawsuit, Saunders would open joint bank accounts and then withdraw government money meant to be used for their care.

Saunders was employed as a social worker in Kelowna between 1996 and 2018.

APTN Investigates profiled the case and Saunders’ victims in and episode called Broken Trust.

Saunders isn’t in custody and is set to appear in a Kelowna courtroom March 21 for sentencing.

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