Robert Riley Saunders, a social worker facing 13 criminal charges including fraud, theft and forgery, has chosen to be tried by a Supreme Court justice, without a jury.
Saunders was employed by B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development as a social worker in Kelowna between 1996 and 2018. He appeared in Kelowna Law Court on Feb. 22 via video conference, and his next court appearance is set for March 8, 2021.
In a separate action last October, the province settled a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit, which alleged that “Saunders defrauded many children in the care of the Ministry of their food, clothing and shelter allowances, leaving many of them destitute and homeless.”
“The Province admits that Saunders harmed children in the Director’s care for whom he had responsibility in his capacity as a social worker and that the Province is vicariously liable for the harm caused by Saunders,” reads the settlement agreement.
“This harm includes neglect, misappropriation of funds and failure to plan for the children’s welfare and, with respect to Indigenous children, failure to take steps to preserve their cultural identities.”
In an affidavit submitted during the class action hearing, it says that MCFD estimated the number of class members at 102, and the majority were Indigenous youth.
Court documents show that Saunders claimed to have a social work degree from the University of Manitoba on his resume when he didn’t in fact have one.
The next step in the current criminal proceeding will be a pre-trial conference, says Dan McLaughlin, communications counsel for the BC Prosecution Service, via an email to IndigiNews.
He says they expect to set the date for the conference at the next court appearance on March 8.
“The trial date will not be set until the pre-trial issues are dealt with,” he says.
A court-ordered publication ban prohibits anyone from publishing information that could identify the alleged victims in this case.
Saunders was released on bail on Dec. 18. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, members of the public and media who want to attend virtual proceedings remotely can do so via Microsoft (MS) teams.
Chehala Leonard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse