Granting of Robert Saunders' parole leaves First Nations Leadership Council 'shocked, appalled and deeply outraged.'

'Shocked, deeply outraged'

The granting of parole for Robert Saunders has left the First Nations Leadership Council “shocked, appalled and deeply outraged.”

Earlier this month, the Parole Board of Canada granted Saunders day parole, just 14.5 months after he was handed a five-year sentence for stealing about $460,000 from the Ministry of Children and Family Development – his employer – over a six and a half year period.

Saunders worked as a social worker with the MCFD from 1996 to 2018, when he was caught stealing the funds that were meant to go to the dozens of young people in his care.

During sentencing, Justice Steve Wilson ruled the thefts deprived the youth in Saunders' care, many of whom were vulnerable, Indigenous youth.

In a statement Friday, the First Nations Leadership Council condemned the Parole Board's decision and called for an "immediate reversal of the decision."

“Saunders was able to steal money from First Nations youth for 6.5 years because of the failure of the BC child protection system,” said Chief Don Tom, Vice-President of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

“With this decision to grant Mr. Saunders parole, the Justice system has once again failed First Nations victims. First Nations people have been victimized by the Justice system for 200 years. It is clearly time for fulsome reform.”

In its decision, the Parole Board of Canada noted Saunders' remorse and level of accountability to be “not fully authentic” during the Parole hearing. Back in 2022, Justice Wilson found Saunders to not be remorseful for his crimes, and said Saunders sought to “blame others.”

In spite of this, the Parole Board found him to be a low risk to reoffend, and granted him day parole.

“Despite the calls of many Canadians, and especially First Nations People, this government has chosen not to reform the Canadian Parole system. First Nations people need to have a stronger voice at the Parole hearings when it is First Nations people who are the victims,” said Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the BC Assembly of First Nations.

“In addition, this decision flies in the face of the spirit of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People which has many sections aimed at protecting Indigenous youth.”

Saunders will able to apply for full parole by the end of March 2024, and at this time, the Correctional Service of Canada is supportive of his full parole when he's eligible.

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