Former Kelowna social worker Robert Riley Saunders granted bail Friday

Saunders granted bail

Robert Riley Saunders is expected to be released from custody next week after he was granted bail Friday afternoon.

A former child protection worker employed by the Ministry of Children and Family Development in Kelowna, Saunders was arrested earlier this month in Calgary, after the BC Prosecution Service laid 13 charges against him.

For several years, former youth in Saunders' care have been levelling allegations against him, claiming he stole funds that were meant to be used for their care. Many at-risk youth, most who are Indigenous, said Saunders' actions left them homeless, suffering from addiction issues and sexually exploited.

Justice Monica McParland granted Saunders bail on Friday, with a $50,000 deposit. His bail conditions include electronic monitoring by way of an ankle bracelet.

The details from the bail hearing, including Judge McParland's reasons for her decision, are covered under a routine publication ban.

Saunders attended the hearing by way of video feed from the Calgary Remand Centre, where he's been incarcerated since his arrest. Saunders was meant to attend his bail hearing in Kelowna, but he was forced to quarantine at the Calgary jail after he was exposed to a COVID-positive person.

Holding the bail hearing while an accused is physically out of the province, and therefore out of B.C.'s jurisdiction, is somewhat unique, but Judge McParland ruled it could proceed given the complex circumstances.

The provincial government recently settled a class-action lawsuit, agreeing to pay dozens of former youth in Saunders' care tens of thousands of dollars for the harm they suffered. The total payout from the suit is expected to exceed $8 million.

The lawsuits claimed: “Saunders sought out and exploited aboriginal high-risk youth because he knew that his supervisors and managers ... would not look closely at their affairs or adequately safeguard their interests."

The complex criminal investigation into Saunders took close to two years to complete. The case is still in its infancy before the courts though, and it's unclear when, or if, a trial will take place.

The case will next be before the courts on Jan. 25.

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