Disgraced social worker elects for judge-alone Supreme Court trial

Saunders opts for judge trial

A former Kelowna social worker accused of stealing from dozens of Indigenous youth in his care made a brief court appearance Monday.

Appearing by video, Robert Riley Saunders elected for a judge-alone trial in BC Supreme Court. He makes his next court appearance on March 8.

Saunders is out on bail while he faces 13 charges related to allegations that he stole funds meant for vulnerable youth in his care. Many at-risk youth, most who are Indigenous, said Saunders' actions left them homeless, suffering from addiction issues and sexually exploited.

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. He was arrested and charged in December, although allegations have been publicly known against him since November 2018.

with files from Nich Johansen

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