A B.C. First Nations group is demanding justice following the arrest of a former B.C. social worker who’s alleged to have stolen from at-risk clients in his care, most of whom were Indigenous.
On Friday, Kelowna RCMP announced that Robert Riley Saunders had been arrested in Alberta, and that he’s now facing 13 criminal charges, including 10 counts of fraud over $5,000.
One day later, the First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) issued a press release.
The group stated they’re relieved that Saunders was arrested, calling him a disgraced former social worker, but said they want to “secure justice for all of his victims.”
“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.
“We were outraged to learn of this disgusting situation and that it went undetected for so long. The individuals who were harmed by this man, along with their families, have been left with lifelong traumas as a direct result of his actions.
“We are grateful to see that charges have finally been laid and he has been arrested. May justice be served for his victims.”
It’s believed Saunders victimized 102 clients, with 90 or so estimated to be Indigenous or of Indigenous ancestry.
“The actions of Saunders contributed to the homelessness, abuse, and further exploitation of many of these youth,” the FNLC said in the press release.
Recently, a class-action settlement was approved in B.C. Supreme Court to provide financial compensation to the victims.
“The actions of Robert Saunders are nothing short of complete depravity and must be prosecuted as such,” stated Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
Wilson is also the Chief of the Neskonlith Indian Band in the Shuswap.
“Our children and families have long been devasted by the genocidal policies of the colonial child welfare and justice systems,” said Wilson. “We hope that the criminal justice system will fully take these realities into account when prosecuting and sentencing Robert Saunders.
“We offer our continued prayers for his victims and their families in their healing”.
Regional Chief Terry Teegee, of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations also weighed in, stating “we are at a time of change and opportunity, and we hope to see this reflected in the prosecution of Robert Saunders.”
Teegee continued, stating “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.
“True justice will only be served when we see these inequities addressed, and the broad systemic shifts that support Indigenous peoples in having our inherent and fundamental human rights upheld.
“Let this not be another case where a non-Indigenous man is privileged within the justice system while the Indigenous children and youth he preyed upon are denied the justice they are due.”
In announcing the arrest, RCMP said Saunders was being held in custody and that he’s expected to make a court appearance in Kelowna next week.