Disgraced former social worker Robert Riley Saunders says he is 'truly sorry'

Saunders 'truly sorry'

He will have to wait a bit longer to learn his fate, but a former Kelowna social worker has finally offered an apology at his sentencing hearing.

Robert Riley Saunders pleaded guilty last year to three of the 13 charges he was facing; fraud over $5,000, breach of trust in connection with his duties as a child protection guardianship worker, and using a forged document.

During the final day of his sentencing hearing, Saunders stepped to the podium facing Supreme Court Justice Steve Wilson and delivered his statement to the court.

Saunders started by saying there has been a notion throughout his trial that he has not been remorseful, but that is not true. He said he had been restricted from addressing those impacted for the past four-and-a-half years.

He expressed ‘sincere remorse’ and said he was sorry to his employer, his co-workers, and the youth and families impacted.

Saunders said he wished he could go back in time to be the voice of reason to advise his younger self.

“At no time would I set out to emotionally harm anybody. I am truly sorry,” he concluded.

Saunders, a former social worker with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, pleaded guilty in September of last year to defrauding the ministry of more than $460,000, depriving the vulnerable Indigenous youth in his care.

He had been charged with multiple counts of fraud over $5,000, breach of trust, and forging a university degree, which he used to obtain a job at the MCFD back in 1996.

The Crown is seeking a prison sentence of between six and eight years, while defence lawyer Brian Fitzpatrick argues that his client is remorseful and suggested two years of house arrest followed by three years of probation.

A large group of Okanagan Nation Alliance members and others gathered outside the Kelowna courthouse last month, calling for harsh punishment for Saunders and for justice for the Indigenous children who were victimized by him.

During her submissions, Crown prosecutor Heather Magnin noted Saunders targeted particularly vulnerable Indigenous children who'd been removed from their homes by the MCFD, as he figured they would be less likely to speak up about their lack of support.

Magnin said Saunders ramped up his fraud over seven years, stealing from more, and younger, youth. By the time he was caught in 2018, he was stealing funds that were meant to go to about half of the youth in his care.

The case is scheduled to be back in court on July 25, when Justice Wilson will either deliver the sentence or fix a date for sentencing. What happens depends on the availability of the Crown and defence lawyers who both have other trials scheduled, although the judge said he wants to make his ruling sooner rather than later.

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