First Nations leaders relieved that former Kelowna social employee is charged and in custody
VANCOUVER – BC First Nations Leadership Council members are relieved that a former social worker charged with fraud has been arrested and is in police custody.
Robert Riley Saunders, accused of stealing money from children in the care of the BC Department for Children and Family Development, was arrested this week in Alberta.
Now First Nations leaders say the justice system needs to take into account that many of the children it harms are native.
“Our children and families have long been devastated by the genocidal policies of the colonial child welfare and judicial systems,” Judy Wilson, Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, Secretary and Treasurer of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs said in a press release.
“We hope the criminal justice system fully takes these realities into account in the prosecution and conviction of Robert Saunders.”
The Saunders trial will be an opportunity for the courts to recognize the value of indigenous peoples’ lives, said regional chief Terry Teegee of the BC Assembly of First Nations.
“We are in a time of change and opportunity, and we hope that this will be reflected in Robert Saunders’ prosecution,” Teegee said in a statement.
“The fact that almost all of Robert Saunders’ victims were local shows the broader systemic problems that have placed less emphasis on our lives, needs and circumstances,” added Teegee.
“This is not another case in which a non-indigenous man is privileged within the justice system, while the indigenous children and young people who have fallen victim to him are denied their due justice.”
However, Teegee says that “true justice” can only be served to its full extent if widespread social inequalities that disadvantage people in the First Nations are addressed and corrected.
Saunders has been charged with 10 cases of fraud over $ 5,000, one theft over $ 5,000, a breach of trust and a forged document, according to police.
Earlier this year, the provincial government settled a class action lawsuit involving more than 100 alleged Saunders victims. The multiple petitions filed against Saunders and the province alleged that Saunders had evicted foster children from stable homes in order to qualify for financial benefits from the ministry.
He then allegedly stole the children’s money, leaving them homeless and vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse and addiction.
Cheryl Casimer of the First Nations Summit said in a statement that Saunders’ breach of trust is particularly troubling.
“For over a decade, this man has hunted and exploited some of the most vulnerable members of our society for personal gain and gain while trading these youngsters under the auspices of the Department of Child and Family Development – the branch of our government charged with doing this Protect people. “
“We are grateful to see that charges were finally brought and that he was arrested. May justice be served for his victims, “added Casimer.
In the settlement with the victims, the province admitted that Saunders was harming children in the ministry’s care, making the province liable for that damage on a proxy.
The province agreed to pay alleged Saunders victims a base amount of $ 25,000, with additional payments available for indigenous people, homeless people, mental harm, sexual exploitation, injuries or delayed education.
Saunders is now awaiting trial and is expected to appear in Kelowna Provincial Court next week.
“We continue to offer prayers for their healing to our victims and their families,” added Wilson.