The slaying of Loretta Saunders should trigger a national inquiry into the hundreds of murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada, the president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association says.
Cheryl Maloney spoke hours after police found the body of Saunders off a New Brunswick highway. Police are treating her death as a homicide.
"I'm never going to let Stephen Harper or Canadians forget about Loretta and all the other missing or murdered aboriginal people," Maloney said.
"There’s something wrong in Canada if aboriginal people have to live this fate."
Saunders, an Inuk woman from Newfoundland and Labrador, was doing her thesis at Halifax's Saint Mary’s University on missing and murdered aboriginal women.
'Every aboriginal girl in this country is vulnerable. For Canada to be ignoring it for so long, it's disheartening.' —Cheryl Maloney, Nova Scotia Native Women's Association
Maloney said aboriginal Canadian women are five times more likely to be violently attacked than non-aboriginal women.
Aboriginal men also face higher risks of violence than non-aboriginal men, she said.
A researcher has found 800 cases of missing or murdered Canadian aboriginal women.
Maloney said the “bright, smart” student didn’t fit stereotypes.
"She wasn't what society expected for a missing aboriginal girl. Canadian society, and especially our prime minister, has been able to ignore the reality of the statistics that are against aboriginal girls,” Maloney said.
"This is not what everyone expects, but she is at risk. Every aboriginal girl in this country is vulnerable. For Canada to be ignoring it for so long, it's disheartening. How many more families does this have to happen to before they take seriously the problem?”
Saunders was studying the murders of three Nova Scotia aboriginal women:
Maloney, surrounded by women who had volunteered to help search for Saunders, thanked Halifax for rallying to her side.
People 'fell in love with this girl'
"Loretta became something not just to us, the volunteers, but to the city, the province, the public. People really stepped up and they fell in love with this girl,” she said.
Saunders was last seen in the Cowie Hill Road area in Halifax on the morning of Feb. 13. Five days later, her car was located in Harrow, Ont.
Officers found her body Wednesday afternoon on the median of Route 2 of the Trans-Canada Highway, west of Salisbury, N.B. Forensic investigators from both Halifax police and RCMP in New Brunswick retrieved her remains.
Murder charges expected
Blake Leggette, 25, and Victoria Henneberry, 28, are currently incarcerated in Halifax. They were Saunders' roommates. Each is facing a charge of theft of a motor vehicle.
"Investigators have identified suspects in this homicide and they are not looking for anyone else," said Const. Pierre Bourdages. "This homicide investigation is ongoing and charges are anticipated."
Bourdages said more than one person will face murder charges and that they would be laid "as soon as possible."
Henneberry is due in court Thursday and Leggette is due in court Friday. Both are facing charges relating to the theft of Saunders' car.
"At this time, that's the only charge they're facing," Bourdages said.