Kelowna (December 8, 2020) – The RCMP arrested former social worker, Robert Riley Saunders, in Alberta for allegedly stealing money from vulnerable youth for more than a decade while he was working for the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development. The statement of claim alleged that Saunders stole the funds deposited into the foster children’s accounts leaving them homeless, subject to physical and sexual abuse, and vulnerable to addiction. In October, the province settled a multi-million dollar class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 100 foster children. Now, the B.C. Prosecution Service has approved thirteen criminal charges against Saunders.
The RCMP arrested former B.C. social worker, Robert Riley Saunders, in Alberta. He is accused of stealing money from dozens of vulnerable foster children while he was working as a guardianship social worker in Kelowna, according to a press release issued by the Mounties. He is facing 13 criminal charges.
Siphoning money from B.C.’s most vulnerable foster children
Between 2001 and 2018, Saunders is accused of stealing money from foster children who were in the care of the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development. He started working for the ministry in 1996. According to court filings, he used a fake bachelor of social work degree from the University of Manitoba to apply for his job.
In March 2018, the Kelowna RCMP began their investigation into Saunders’ allegedly fraudulent activities. The former foster children, which were mostly Indigenous, claimed that Saunders steered them away from stable, loving homes onto the street or more independent living situations in order to make them eligible for financial benefits from the ministry. Thereafter, he allegedly used joint bank accounts to take the government aid that was meant to fund the youths’ care for his personal gain. He is accused of leaving the vulnerable children homeless, subject to physical and sexual abuse, and vulnerable to addiction. He was fired from the ministry in 2018. Afterward, he vanished from Kelowna.
‘For over a decade, this man preyed upon and exploited some of the most vulnerable members of our society for personal profit and gain, while acting under the auspices of the Ministry of Children and Family Development – the branch of our government that is tasked with protecting these young people,’ said Cheryl Casimer of the First Nations Summit in a statement.
B.C. settled a multi-million-dollar class-action lawsuit
Saunders and the Ministry of Children and Family Development was already the subject of a class-action lawsuit. A lawyer for the plaintiffs said that more than 100 victims had come forward to register claims.
The province settled the case in October, admitting harm in the settlement documents. Anyone who was in Saunders’ care is eligible to receive between $25,000 and $250,000 in compensation. In total, the province could pay out $15 million.
Since Saunders vanished in 2018, he has never been served with any of the lawsuits against him. Meanwhile, he was believed to be working at golf courses in Calgary and Winnipeg.
Thirteen criminal charges laid against Saunders
According to the RCMP, the B.C. Prosecution Service has approved thirteen criminal charges against Saunders 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.
‘This was a lengthy and laborious investigation, led by the Fraud Section of the Kelowna RCMP Serious Crime Unit,’ says Supt. Kara Triance, Officer in Charge of the Kelowna RCMP. ‘We are pleased to be able to report back to the community that the matter has now advanced into the judicial process.’
Saunders was recently arrested in Alberta. He remains in custody and is scheduled to appear in court this week.
‘Saunders’ trial will be an opportunity for the courts to recognize the value of Indigenous peoples’ lives,’ said Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations in a statement. ‘We are at a time of change and opportunity, and we hope to see this reflected in the prosecution of Robert Saunders.’ He added: ‘The fact that nearly all of Robert Saunders’ victims were Indigenous is demonstrative of the broader systemic issues that have placed less value upon our lives, needs, and circumstances.’