July 27, 2022
Riley Robert Saunders Sentenced to 5 Years for Defrauding Vulnerable, Primarily First Nations, Youth
(xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C.) 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.
Robert Riley Saunders was first arrested in December 2020 and charged with multiple counts of fraud, breaching trust, and forging his university degree. Yesterday he was sentenced to five years in prison. A class action settlement agreement was reached in 2021 that offers a basic payment of $25,000 to every member of the class action, with Indigenous members receiving an additional $44,000 related to a loss of culture and identity and the failure of Saunders to ensure their cultural, community and kinship ties were maintained. Class members can also apply for up to $181,000 in elevated damages if they suffered additional harms, including sexual exploitation, psychological or bodily harm, homelessness, or delayed education as a result of Saunders’ actions or inactions while he was their social worker. Specialized psychologists and adjudicators were assigned to assist in the applications for elevated damages.
“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. She continued, “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.”
“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?” asked BCAFN Regional Chief Terry Teegee. “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. First it was the theft of our children, now it’s the theft from our children, enough is enough! Further, there is an urgent need to change laws and policies in BC so First Nations youth are with kinship placements and family, and not in group homes, hotels and at the mercy of those who exploit them for self-gain.”
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, UBCIC Secretary-Treasurer, concluded, “Saunders embezzled more than $460,000 with multiple counts of fraud and the socio-emotional and economic impacts of this fraud on the victims cannot be underestimated. Colonial systems of child welfare continue to harm our children, families and communities, and must change. In line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, First Nations must be supported in resumption of full jurisdiction over our children, so that we can ensure proper protections and safeguards. We can never allow another individual like Robert Riley Saunders to capitalize on the broken child welfare system that has been imposed on our people.”
The First Nations Leadership Council is comprised of the political executives of the BC Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN), First Nations Summit (FNS), and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC).
For further information, contact:
Cheryl Casimir, FNS Political Executive: 778-875-2157
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, UBCIC Secretary-Treasurer, c/o: 778-866-0548
Annette Schroeter, BCAFN Communications Officer: 778-281-1655