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5 years prison time ‘not enough’ for fraudulent social worker: First Nations leaders

Robert Riley Saunders stole over $461,000 intended for vulnerable, primarily First Nations, youth
Protesters, including First Nations groups, gathered outside the Kelowna Court House during the sentencing of fraudulent social worker Robert Riley Saunders (Jacqueline Gelineau)

A fraudulent social worker was sentenced to five years in prison, on July 25, following a lengthy trial in a Kelowna Supreme Court.

While working at the Ministry of Children and Family Development as a social worker, Robert Riley Saunders stole approximately $461,000 that was intended for over 107 vulnerable, primarily First Nations, youth in his care, said Justice Wilson.

READ MORE: Fraudulent Kelowna social worker sentenced to 5 years in prison

The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) released a statement saying that they take no comfort in the sentencing of the imposter social worker.

“Five years in prison is simply not enough for the thirteen, very serious, criminal charges in this heinous crime committed against our most vulnerable First Nations children and youth. We are relieved that he is going to be serving time, yet we are highly concerned that this sentence is not long enough given the lifetime of trauma he inflicted on his victims,” stated Cheryl Casimer, First Nations Summit Political Executive.

A class action settlement agreement was reached in 2021 that offers a basic payment of $25,000 to every member of the class action, with Indigenous members receiving an additional $44,000 related to a loss of culture and identity and the failure of Saunders to ensure their cultural, community and kinship ties were maintained.

READ MORE: Trust in social systems ‘destroyed’: victim of fraudulent Kelowna social worker

At least one youth worked as a sex-worker while under his care in order to support herself.

“The Social Workers Act must be updated… Saunders should have never been able to get away with pretending to be a social worker… further, there is an urgent need to change laws and policies in B.C. so First Nations youth are with kinship placements and family, and not in group homes, hotels and at the mercy of those who exploit them for self-gain,” said BCAFN Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, UBCIC Secretary-Treasurer, said that First Nations People must be supported in regaining full jurisdiction over their children to ensure proper protections and safeguards.

“Colonial systems of child welfare continue to harm our children, families and communities, and must change… We can never allow another individual like Robert Riley Saunders to capitalize on the broken child welfare system that has been imposed on our people.”


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Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

I'm a reporter in the beginning stages of my career. I joined the team at Capital News in November 2021...
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