B.C. social worker accused of stealing from children pleads guilty
A former social worker accused of stealing money from children in B.C.'s care system has pleaded guilty to several charges, including fraud over $5,000.
Robert Riley Saunders also pleaded guilty Monday to individual counts of breach of trust and using a forged document during his time working for the Ministry of Children and Family Development in Kelowna.
He is scheduled to appear in court again in March for sentencing, the B.C. Prosecution Service said.
Saunders was accused of moving foster children away from stable homes so they would become eligible for financial benefits from the ministry, then taking that funding for himself.
Court documents also claimed a bachelors degree submitted by Saunders when he was hired in the 1990s was fake.
He was originally charged with 10 counts of fraud over $5,000 and one count of theft over $5,000, along with the breach of trust and forged documents charges.
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said a lot of Indigenous children and families were affected, and many of the young people became homeless.
“They were further exploited on the streets, and some lost their lives,” Wilson said. “This demonstrates as a failure of the justice system to actually serve out true justice for Indigenous people and the youth.”
Wilson said with the country about to observe the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30, “this needs to be a different era."
“We need to change the narrative,” she said. “Our Indigenous children suffer, and are still suffering, because of the unaccountability, the inaction from government, and also in our court systems.”
Wilson added there need to be more extensive reference checks, along with monitoring and evaluation to help prevent future situations exploiting young people in care, including helping them understand their own rights.
“I hate seeing this happen to any families,” she said. “My heart goes out to those families that have been affected, those youth.”
She also said the alleged victims should be followed up on, to check on their well-being.
“They’re struggling right now,” Wilson said.
The provincial government previously settled a class action lawsuit with more than 100 of Saunders' alleged victims, paying them a base amount of $25,000, with additional payments available to those who are Indigenous, had their education delayed, or experienced homelessness, psychological harm, sexual exploitation or injury.
Saunders never filed a response to the lawsuit.
He was arrested in Alberta in December 2020 following what authorities described as a "lengthy and laborious investigation," which began in 2018 and covered the approximately 22 years he had been employed with the ministry.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Andrew Weichel