The legal proceedings against former Kelowna social worker Robert Riley Saunders have hit another snag, facing delays due to a COVID-19 related issue.
After years of investigation, Saunders was arrested last week and charged with 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.
His first appearance in court was scheduled yesterday, however, this did not take place. The BC Prosecution Service cites a “COVID-related issue” as the cause for the delay.
“In the meantime, efforts are being made to address bail issues,” said Crown communications counsel Dan McLaughlin, adding those issues will be discussed in a Dec. 18 appearance.
It’s alleged Saunders had moved children in government care from stable homes in order to make them eligible for financial benefits from the province, before stealing those government funds.
Aside from criminal charges, Saunders – as well as the ministry – are also at the centre of a class-action lawsuit led by former youth in care in B.C.
Statements of claim accuse Saunders of stealing the funds deposited into accounts of those youth, leaving the foster children homeless and subject to physical and sexual abuse, as well as vulnerable to addiction.
In October, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Alan Ross approved a settlement for more than 100 people.
The notice of settlement says each member will get a basic $25,000 payment and those who are Indigenous will get an additional $44,000.
Further damages could be paid to those who experienced homelessness, psychological harm, sexual exploitation, injury, or whose education was delayed, the settlement says.
Saunders was hired by the ministry in 1996 and transferred to Kelowna in 2001. He was fired in 2018.
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