Former colleague testifies against disgraced Kelowna social worker – Smithers Interior News

A former Kelowna social worker who pleaded guilty to defrauding a youth in his care appeared in court for the first day of a week-long sentencing hearing on Monday, March 21.

Robert Riley Saunders was charged with 13 counts in December 2020, including 10 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 false document. His guilty plea came after the settlement of a class action in 2020.

The lawsuit accused Saunders of stealing funds from the accounts of youths in his care, leaving them homeless and subject to abuse, as well as vulnerable to addiction.

Saunders pleaded guilty to three of 13 counts. However, Saunders did not accept some of the facts alleged by the Crown and a Gardiner hearing is currently taking place to determine the validity of those facts.

The Crown alleged that Saunders opened joint bank accounts for many young people in his care, which he used to steal funds from the Ministry of Children and Family Development intended for their food and lodging.

He is also accused of using a fake college degree to get a job as a social worker. According to the Crown, he claimed to have a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Manitoba despite not having a degree in social work.

Due to several publication bans in place for the hearing, witnesses cannot be named.

During Monday’s court proceedings, a witness alleged that they were under Saunders’ guardianship when their father was unable to provide adequate care from the age of 15 to 18.

They repeatedly asked to leave the foster homes and return home with the injured father.

Eventually, Saunders allowed the youngsters to return and live with the father. According to the witness, Saunders did not provide the youth with adequate financial or social support during this time.

They also alleged that when they brought up financial and social difficulties, Saunders “swept it under the rug” and apparently didn’t want to deal with it. The youngster also alleges that sometimes when he asked for his $100-$120 weekly voucher used to buy food for himself and his disabled father, he was refused.

Meanwhile, Saunders took the youngster to the bank to open a joint bank account. They said they never accessed funds from the joint account because they were unaware of the funds deposited in the account and said they found it “difficult” to use the account.

A former colleague of Saunders who works as a social worker in Kelowna also testified at the hearing. She said Saunders is “self-centered” and a poor worker. She said she and Saunders received the same salary, but he lived a “rich lifestyle” of big houses, frequent vacations, new fancy cars and boats as a single father.

The former colleague said that young people in situations like the witness’s are subject to more financial resources and resources than are provided to them.

While under Saunders’ guardianship, the young witnesses said they struggled with drug addiction and had difficulty finding a safe and permanent haven.

Of Saunders’ 107 alleged victims, 90 identify as Indigenous. Two died and four settled in separation actions. Several youths experienced hardships believed to be due, in part, to Saunders’ actions during their youth. Many of his victims suffered from substance use disorders, homelessness, and physical and mental abuse.

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City of KelownaIndigenousIndigenous Child WelfareRCMP

Betty K. Park