Defence asks for house arrest for former Kelowna, B.C. social worker

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Defence asks for house arrest for embezzling former Kelowna social worker
WATCH: Sentencing is still underway for the former Kelowna social worker who admitted to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from youth in his care. As Jules Knox reports, there is a substantial difference between how long Crown and defence lawyers think he should be behind bars. – Jun 24, 2022

The defence lawyer for a former Kelowna, B.C., social worker is asking for a conditional sentence for Robert Riley Saunders. He embezzled at least $460,000 from youth in his care, who were mostly Indigenous.

A conditional sentence is served in the community and is essentially a form of house arrest. The defence is asking for Saunders to be allowed to leave for employment reasons or other possible exceptions.

Saunders previously pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000, breach of trust and using a forged document.

For the fraud and breach of trust charges, defence lawyer Brian Fitzpatrick is asking for a conditional sentence of two years less a day, followed by three years’ probation.

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For forging his degree back in 1996 to get his ministry job, the defence argues Saunders should be given credit for time already served in jail.

Court heard Saunders spent about a month in jail when he was first arrested for embezzling funds from youth in his care but has since been out on bail.

“It’s hard to imagine a more vulnerable group than children in care that are subject to a permanent order,” Justice Steven Wilson said. “So presumably, not only can their parents not look after them, there’s no one else who can.”

The Crown argues that Saunders should spend six to eight years in prison for opening joint bank accounts with youth and then stealing their money.

The prosecution told court that some offences are so serious they deserve jail time, and that this is one of those cases.

Fitzpatrick says that since moving to Calgary, Saunders is finding it difficult to keep a job after people learn of his crimes.

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“His name is now, my submission would be, known nationwide. His reputation will never recover,” Fitzpatrick told court.

Justice Steven Wilson responded by asking, “Isn’t that just a consequence of the offence?”

In the gallery, social workers who have been critical of Saunders nodded in agreement.

Fitzpatrick told court that Saunders has been in counselling and is volunteering at a Calgary animal shelter as well as a food bank.

Court heard that Saunders is still in bankruptcy proceedings.

Fitzpatrick says the former social worker wants to pay some of the money he stole back, and that if he serves his sentence while working in the community, he will be better able to repay his debts.

The defence also argues Saunders is remorseful, although the Crown says it’s not genuine.

Saunders sat in the prisoner’s box dressed in a blue-collared shirt as lawyers discussed his white collar crime.

On Thursday he appeared to occasionally doze off, but on Friday, he started sobbing and shaking at times.

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Court is now awaiting a report addressing whether or not mental health concerns could be a mitigating factor in Saunders’ crimes.

Sentencing proceedings are expected to continue July 12.

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