Charges have yet to be laid against former Kelowna social worker

June 20, 2021


Criminal charges have still yet to be laid against a former Kelowna social worker who’s been accused of stealing money from multiple vulnerable youth who were once in his care, more than two years after the allegations first came to light.

Robert Riley Saunders was suspended from his social work position in January 2018, after the Ministry of Children and Family Development first noticed “financial irregularities” connected to Saunders. He was fired that May.

Since then, multiple civil lawsuits have been filed against Saunders by former youth in his care, many of whom were vulnerable, at-risk Indigenous youth that had been removed from their biological families by the MCFD.

The suits claim Saunders opened joint bank accounts with many of the youth in his care, and transferred Ministry money into his own account that was meant to be used for food, housing and other essentials for the young people. Many of the plaintiffs in the civil suits claim his alleged actions led to them becoming homeless, experience drug addiction, and become sexually exploited.

The MCFD alleges Saunders admitted to the “conversion of funds” in March 2018, before the Ministry forwarded the matter to the RCMP.

Today, it’s unclear where Saunders resides, and he has yet to file any responses to the multiple lawsuits against him. Michael Patterson is representing many of the plaintiffs who’ve launched civil cases against Saunders.

“As far as our civil side is concerned, we’ve given up in trying to track down Mr. Saunders. We’re working with the province, and the province has been co-operating with us,” Patterson said Friday.

“Several of the files have been resolved, and that’s all I can say on that because they’re confidential.”

The MCFD, which has also been named as a defendant in many of the Saunders suits, has admitted “vicarious liability” for Saunders’ alleged actions in several of the cases. Vicarious liability is the liability an employer has for the actions of an employee.

“The Province admits Saunders was negligent, defalcated and converted funds belonging to children in care, committed misfeasance in public office, fraud and breached fiduciary duties owed to children on his caseload,” the MCFD said in a recent response to one of the suits.

Patterson says the province has made “significant efforts” to resolve the files, but adds that he’s had more alleged victims of Saunders’ actions approach him with additional allegations, and he plans to file more lawsuits.

Saunders’ direct supervisor, Siobhan Stynes, denied she had any knowledge of the alleged thefts in a March 2020 court filing, claiming the province’s “standard of care” did not require her to review the files of social workers under her supervision, to meet with them regularly or to ensure Saunders or any other social workers “carried out their duties to the best interests of the plaintiff.”

Despite the province’s co-operation in resolving the civil cases, it’s unclear where the criminal investigation into Saunders’ actions currently stands, 27 months after the MCFD first forwarded the matter to the RCMP.

Earlier this year, Kelowna RCMP’s Cpl. Jocelyn Noseworthy told Castanet the Saunders investigation is “an extremely large and complex file,” but Patterson says his clients are “baffled” as to why charges haven’t been laid.

“It’s been a number of years and they don’t see any movement on that,” Patterson said. “The province and the RCMP have enormous amounts of resources, if they want to find somebody, they’ll find him.

“My clients are still hoping that Mr. Riley Saunders will have his day in court.”

Castanet has reached out to the Kelowna RCMP for an update on the Saunders investigation.