Final chapter for alleged victims of disgraced Kelowna social worker begins today | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Final chapter for alleged victims of disgraced Kelowna social worker begins today

Robert Riley Saunders sold his house for a hefty profit after investigation started into his alleged theft from clients.
Image Credit: Global Okanagan (with permission)
December 10, 2020 - 7:30 AM

Looking in the rearview mirror, Aden Withers knows that Robert Riley Saunders caused a lot of harm.

But the disgraced Kelowna social worker who’s set to appear in the courtroom for the first time since the social working scandal broke, once seemed like the real deal.

“I respected him for his job,” Withers said. “He was a social worker of mine, but I also worked for him as his team leader to mentor Aboriginal youth and I worked with a lot of his clients, a lot. So when I see these faces and I hear these names and I see his face pop up in my newsfeed on Facebook, I get really sick.”

Saunders worked for the Ministry of Children and Family Development, largely with Indigenous youth from 2001 until he was fired in 2018. While in his care, foster children were allegedly moved away from family settings into independent living. At that point, according to multiple accounts spelled out in civil suits as well as a recently settled multi-million-dollar class action, they opened joint bank accounts and Saunders allegedly helped himself to government aid, leaving them short. In turn, they suffered harms including homelessness, physical and sexual abuse, drug misuse and a range of psychological disorders. 

While the class action was recently settled with the province, the criminal charges are new and allegations have yet to be proven in court.

He is accused of 10 counts of fraud over $5,000, one count of theft over $5,000, one count of breach of trust and one count of uttering a forged document.

The civil suit indicates far more people were affected by his time at the ministry, which is one of the reasons why Withers is rankled by how few criminal charges have been put forth. 

“I can see the faces of those kids, and I know a lot of them personally and whether it's like a brother-sister relationship or just, you know, a person-to-client or friend-to-friend relationship, I know them and it's disheartening to see where they are in life right now,” Withers said.

Softening her reaction, however, is the relief that the financial compensation will help.

“It's relieving to know that they're getting the help that they need,” Withers said. “That they're getting compensated in some way, even though it can't replace the trauma that's been done to them, it can help them move forward from it."

For Withers, the financial compensation earned from the lawsuit against the RCMP for treatment over the process of reporting a sexual assault has been a stepping stone.

They have been using it for therapy and a means to find a way out of the emotional trauma incurred when young.

It’s also stabilized their lives, allowing them more security for their families. The hope is that those young people they once knew will get the same leg up.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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