Police have charged a man in the horrific assault of a native woman who was found in the parking lot of a Prince Albert, Sask., community centre a month ago with half of her face cut off and her legs burned to the bone.
The attack on Marlene Bird bolstered calls for a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and prompted her supporters to question whether a similar assault on a middle-class, non-native woman would have garnered more national attention.
Leslie Ivan Roderick Black, a 29-year-old man from Prince Albert whom Ms. Bird knew as a casual acquaintance, was charged with attempted murder and aggravated sexual assault. The two were apparently left alone together a few hours before she was discovered barely clinging to life, and in the same location.
The police say they are not looking for other suspects, though they are asking for any additional information that could bolster their case.
Ms. Bird, 47, who was born in the small community of Molanosa in northern Saskatchewan and started living on the streets in her early 20s after years at residential schools, had both legs amputated after the attack. She was sent to the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton for treatment because her injuries were so severe.
Lorna Thiessen, Ms. Bird’s aunt, said Ms. Bird is recovering well, under the circumstances. Doctors have reattached her face and the stitches are barely visible. But she has phantom feelings where her legs used to be, her aunt said. “She sees her legs are not there, but then she will say an hour later, ‘Oh, I need to buy some shoes when I get out of here.’”
Ms. Bird has “been speaking now for a couple of weeks, she’s been telling her story to family that go in,” Ms. Thiessen said. “She’s been talking about ‘here’s what I saw, here’s what happened to me,’ that kind of thing.”
Ms. Bird, who acknowledged her alcoholism but could not control it, was a regular fixture at the YWCA shelter for homeless women in Prince Albert and the workers there knew her as a sweet person. She received money as part of the settlement with residential school survivors but gave most of it away to family and friends she deemed to be in greater need. Moved by her story and the horrible injuries she suffered, the Prince Albert YWCA called for Canadians to write messages of support.
“It is quite amazing. We received hundreds of cards and letters from right across Canada for Marlene,” said Donna Brooks, executive director of the Prince Albert YWCA. “I was really proud of our country. It was really heartwarming.”
In addition, the Y has raised about $11,000 in donations to help Ms. Bird’s family stay with her in Edmonton while she receives treatment, and also to set up a trust fund to assist with her rehabilitation. “She’s got a long road ahead of her,” Ms. Brooks said. “She obviously has numerous surgeries in front of her as well, and the mental damage that must come with something like this. So she is going to need a lot of support in the coming months and years as she goes through this recovery process.”
Ms. Thiessen said Ms. Bird is very thankful to those who have reached out with messages of kindness “and she is very thankful to be alive.”
The RCMP said in May that it has compiled nearly 1,200 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada over the past 30 years – a number that is three to four times higher than their average representation in the population.