As two were charged in the murder of Loretta Saunders, the 26-year-old Inuit university student who was researching the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada, the call for a national inquiry into the problem rang out anew as condolences poured in from across the country.
Victoria Henneberry, 28, and Blake Leggette, 25, were charged with murder on Thursday February 27 and were scheduled to appear in court in Halifax on February 28. Saunders, who was pregnant, went missing on February 13. Her body was found hundreds of miles away, in a highway median in New Brunswick, on February 26. Henneberry and Leggette, who were subletting Saunders’s apartment, had already been arrested in possession of her car in Ontario, 2,000 miles away. She had gone to collect back rent from them, according to accounts. Police believe she died the day she disappeared and was killed in the apartment.
Speaking on the CBC show Maritime Noon, Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, reiterated a longstanding call for a national inquiry to be conducted into why aboriginal women are five times more likely to be attacked than non-Native women. Other indigenous groups soon followed suit.
“I think what society believes is a typical woman at risk is somebody working in the sex-trade industry, on drugs, mental illness, those types of things,” said Maloney, who was also serving as a spokesperson for Saunders’s family, according to CBC News. “But the fact is our women are disappearing, and they’re not typically in the sex trade.”
Numerous individuals and groups have expressed the need for a national inquiry into why rates of violence are so high against indigenous women in Canada. So far, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said that he does not believe such a panel would bring answers, or closure.
"I remain very skeptical of commissions of inquiry generally," Harper said last year, as quoted by CBC News. "My experience has been they almost always run way over time, way over budget, and often the recommendations prove to be of limited utility."
But as word spread of the finding of Saunders’s body—in a wooded median off Route 2 of the Trans-Canada Highway west of Moncton, New Brunswick—the outcry once again ensued.
“Enough is enough. The senseless loss of another life and the people that it affects is devastating to communities and families,” said Regional Chief Stan Beardy of the Assembly of First Nations, and head of the Chiefs of Ontario, in a statement. “I know too well the how a loss of a loved one due to violence can alter one’s life and leave a shocking impact in a community and family. This has to end and I am supporting the call by the Aboriginal Women’s Association for a national inquiry.”
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo called Saunders a “bright young Inuk woman who was dedicating her time and energy to researching violence against indigenous women” and said her death was yet another sign that such an inquiry is necessary.
“This is a call to action that this must end now,” Atleo said. “We cannot add one more name to the list of murdered or missing women. We need to see action by all parties to end violence, to respect and honour women and families, to ensure our communities are safe and secure for all. We repeat our call for a national public commission of inquiry supported by immediate action to prevent these senseless tragedies.”