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First Nations group takes “no comfort” in social worker sentenced for stealing money from Indigenous youth in care

“Five years in prison is simply not enough."
Five year sentence.

 A former British Columbia social worker found guilty of stealing money from youth in provincial care and sentenced to five years in prison is seeing little sympathy from the First Nations Leadership Council.

The five year sentence for Robert Riley Sanders was handed down Monday in BC Supreme Court in Kelowna, a year after he pled guilty to charges of breach of trust, forgery, and fraud over $5,000.

Justice Steven Wilson sentenced Saunders to five years on the fraud charge and a concurrent two year term on breach of trust and forgery charges, with several other charges stayed. Saunders misappropriated an estimated $460,000 from the Ministry of Children and Family Development by opening joint accounts with 24 youths in his care, many of them Indigenous, and also taking their benefits.

Saunders was “indifferent about how his actions would impact the youth he was intended to help,” said Justice Wilson during sentencing.

“The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) takes no comfort in the sentencing of former Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) employee Robert Riley Saunders who stole, lied, and manipulated high-risk First Nations children and youth out of their funds for survival while under his care,” said the FNLC in a statement.  

“The despicable behavior of Robert Riley Saunders deserves a punishment that matches the severity of his crimes,” stated Cheryl Casimer, First Nations Summit Political Executive.  

“Five years in prison is simply not enough for the thirteen, very serious, criminal charges in this heinous crime committed against our most vulnerable First Nations children and youth. We are relieved that he is going to be serving time, yet we are highly concerned that this sentence is not long enough given the lifetime of trauma he inflicted on his victims.”

BCAFN Regional Chief Terry Teegee asked if MCFD required social workers to register with the independent BC College of Social Workers, would Saunders have been able to carry out these crimes for more than a decade?

“The Social Workers Act must be updated to provide such safeguards for community- Robert Riley Saunders should have never been able to get away with pretending to be a social worker.”

“These kids need to know that people actually care,” said Barb Dawson, a member of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation to Aaron Hemens, a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with IndigiNews.

- with files from Canadian Press.

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