Halifax police charged a man and woman with first-degree murder Thursday in the death of Happy Valley-Goose Bay Inuk Loretta Saunders, whose body was found a day earlier on the side of a highway in New Brunswick
Victoria Henneberry, 28, and Blake Leggette, 25, will face the charges in Halifax provincial court today.
The news that the body of 26-year-old Saunders had been found rocked not only her family and friends and the aboriginal community, but the public, who first heard of Saunders’ disappearance almost two weeks ago.
Supt. Jim Perrin of Halifax Regional Police said police believe Saunders was killed in the city on the day she was last seen on Feb. 13.
“I can’t imagine what a tragic event this is for Ms. Saunders family and friends and we’re glad we’re able to bring this to some sort of conclusion quickly,” Perrin said.
The Saint Mary’s University student’s name will be added to a database of missing and killed women from Newfoundland and Labrador.
There is anguish with each new name added, and while Saunders’ name will unfortunately find a place on the list, the gesture was gut-wrenching to fathom Thursday.
The number exceeds 100 and is not believed to include all who should be on it. The list is meant to bring awareness to violence and to remember the victims.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Amelia Reimer, women’s outreach worker at St. John’s Native Friendship Centre.
“So many people try to put the blame on the victim — that she should have known better or she was asking for it, she must have put herself in a bad situation. Here is someone (Saunders) who was fully aware of the dangers, fully aware of the statistics and this highlights it is not the victim asking for this. This is people who take it in their own hands to take the lives of someone else. …
The awareness of the problem of violence against women needs to be in the entire community. ”
On Feb. 17, Saunders was reported missing to police by her family. On Feb. 18, her car was located in Harrow, Ont., and two suspects were arrested for the theft of her vehicle and remanded into custody.
The senseless murder of Saunders adds to a database that seems is never complete.
Since an early February vigil the number of women added by Reimer to the database is 95 and growing.
But names listed on a national database adds another 19 for this province — potentially bringing the list to potentially 114.
And there are also some maybes and others researchers are not aware of yet.
“That number is so small compared to the number of cases that are actually out there,” Reimer said.
Saunders was researching missing and murdered aboriginal women for a thesis.
Reimer noted that women are sacred in traditional aboriginal beliefs and that education needs to be broadened across all society to overcome violence.
“People are marginalized and women are marginalized in our society. And people from different ethic backgrounds are marginalized even further. It’s a combination of those two. In all of these cases where aboriginal women are murdered or missing, it’s a deadly combination,” Reimer said.
The national list by Ottawa researcher Maryanne Pearce has 35 Newfoundland and Labrador women — not as many as this province’s database — and nearly 3,000 women in total from across the country. Many of the victims have no justice, as they are either listed as missing, or if murdered, the cases were unsolved or did not result in convictions.
Some 824 of the missing or murdered women in Canada are aboriginal.
Th database for this province was used in compiling a list of women and girls remembered in a public vigil in early February, a project organized by Marguerite’s Place, the Coalition Against Violence — Avalon East, the Native Friendship Centre and the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre.
Much of the research Reimer is involved in was done through the national aboriginal Faceless Dolls project. In this province, the Faceless Dolls organizers decided to include all women because of the interconnections and ancestry.