The First Nations Leadership Council has spoken up about a case against a disgraced Kelowna social worker who has allegedly stolen thousands of dollars from vulnerable youth in his care.
The council said it is frustrated to learn about the plea deal struck by Robert Riley Saunders, a former social worker that worked for the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Saunders is accused of stealing money from at-risk youth in his care, many of whom are Indigenous. He pleaded guilty to stealing from and harming at-risk youth in his care, forging a university diploma and breaching trust as a public official in court on Monday, Sept. 27.
“The power and privilege evident in this plea deal is beyond frustrating. This man spent over ten years intentionally and strategically preying upon vulnerable youth for his personal gain,” said Chief Don Tom, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “Robert Saunders is an evil man, who can be directly implicated in the deaths and lifelong traumas of over 100 young victims and today the (in)justice system once again has told us that Indigenous lives don’t matter there.”
Saunders has been protected by colonial and racist systems, said the council. “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 buzzword,” said B.C. Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee.
The First Nations Leadership Council hopes the court will consider all these factors at his sentencing hearing, scheduled for March 21, 2022. It wants the courts to use the full extent of the law to hold Saunders accountable. The council also calls on the province to take immediate steps to ensure all ministry social workers are registered with a public body to put monitoring and accountability safeguards in place.
“This despicable human being, and the systems that protected him, cannot be permitted to continue to avoid responsibility while his victims and their family members continue to suffer,” said Cheryl Casimer of the First Nations Summit.