This Monday, Nova Scotia’s provincial party leaders added their support to a national public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. Their support comes following the tragic death of Loretta Saunders, an Inuk woman originally from Labrador who was studying in Halifax.
On February 17, Saunders was reported missing from her dorm at Saint Mary’s University Halifax. What followed was a desperate manhunt for the 26-year-old that ended on the 26, when her remains were found abandoned on the side of a New Brunswick highway, buried under thick winter snow. Her death has left family distraught, friends confused and angry, and one university thesis unfinished—a thesis that focused on the crisis of murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada.
It is lost on few that Saunders is now a victim to the very violence she was trying to raise awareness of and eventually stop. A violence that has been described as a “tragedy” by David Langtry, the head of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, at an Economic Club of Canada speech on Tuesday. “The murder or disappearance of some 600 aboriginal women and girls over the past 30 years is a national tragedy,” he said. “We must get to the root causes of these disturbing facts.”
And indeed, the bitter tragedy of Saunders’ death seems to have galvanized the country into finally taking action on the longstanding issue in Canada. The comment from Langtry, along with the support of the three main party leaders in Nova Scotia, adds real strength to the growing support for a national public inquiry into the number of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Nova Scotian Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil said in a joint statement Thursday with the leaders of the PCs and NDP that while the federal government had tried to address some of the issues involved with missing aboriginal women, further input was needed: “I commend the federal government for its efforts so far, but I urge my federal colleagues to take this work one step further.”
The inquiry has been backed by Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders since last July when they met with aboriginal leaders to discuss the problem. With the death of Saunders there are now more voices calling for the inquiry than ever.
However, the federal Conservatives are resisting, saying that they have done, and are continuing to do enough to deal with the issue. According to APTN, Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch said last Thursday that “the government had already taken ‘concrete action’ by promising $25 million toward the issue in the latest budget.”
The Canadian Human Right Commission disagrees.
In an annual report, given to the government on Tuesday, it says “The fact remains that there has been little concrete actions so far. The problem requires real, sustainable solutions that will demand an unprecedented degree of effort and commitment with federal, provincial, territorial and First Nations governments working together.”
At an emotional vigil held for Saunders on Wednesday at Parliament Hill, Holly Jarrett, her cousin, told a crowd of over 100 people that: “It’s not just about one woman like our beloved Loretta… More than 800 aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada since 1990.” She also presented parliament with a petition in support of the inquiry.
Blake Leggette, 26, and Victoria Henneberry, 28, Saunders’ roommates have both been arrested and charged with first degree murder in conjunction with her death.