The First Nations Leadership Council is “deeply outraged” after parole was granted to a man who deprived and stole money from vulnerable Indigenous youth who were in his care while he worked as a social worker.
Over a period of six and a half years, Robert Riley Saunders took approximately $461,000 intended for the youth in his care, said Crown counsel during the trial. He was convicted in July of 2022 and sentenced to serve five years in prison for fraud, and breach of trust for forging a document.
However, 14 months after being sentenced, the National Parole Board granted Saunders’ request for day parole, meaning he is allowed to go to work during the day.
Today, the First Nations Leadership Council released a statement saying it is “shocked, appalled and deeply outraged” and, that as an organization, it condemns the decision. The council is calling on the parole board to issue an immediate reversal.
“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…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.
Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs vice-president Chief Don Tom said the parole board and justice system “has once again failed First Nations victims.”
Throughout the trial, Crown Counsel emphasized the fact that Saunders chose to target Indigenous youth, explaining that it is relevant and aggravating, given Canada’s history of systemic abuse against First Nations people.
Throughout the trial, Saunders maintained the youth experienced no financial deprivation and were not entitled to the funds he misappropriated.
During the trial, Saunders also said many of the youth that he deprived of funds were “not trustworthy.” He explained that providing the youth with the money would have been “irresponsible.” Instead, Saunders said that he issued the funds to himself and thought that no one would notice.
Many of the youth suffered significant trauma, homelessness and substance use because of the actions of Saunders, said Crown.
Multiple victims provided impact statements and said that due to the lies and deceit by Saunders, they do not trust authority figures and are apprehensive about seeking help from the ministry or other state-run organizations.
“My trust in the systems that are supposed to support me is destroyed,” said one youth.