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Pair of arrests made in case of missing Inuk woman

Halifax student Loretta Saunders was reported missing by her family on Feb. 17, 2014.

The Canadian Press

Two people are facing charges related to use of a bank card owned by a missing 26-year-old Inuk woman who has been studying the disproportionately high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

The pair will appear in a Windsor, Ont., court on Friday after an initial court appearance earlier this week. Halifax investigators have asked that they be kept in custody for several days after the hearing. They have arrest warrants for them in connection with the theft of a vehicle belonging to Loretta Saunders that was found in the southwestern Ontario community of Harrow, and plan to bring them to Halifax to face charges.

Ms. Saunders, who is from Hopedale in the self-governing Nunatsiavut region of northern Labrador, was last seen a week ago in Halifax near her high-rise apartment building in the Cowie Hill neighbourhood, a community on the city's western mainland dotted with townhouses. Her family reported her missing on Feb. 17.

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Ontario Provincial Police arrested Blake Leggette, 25, and 28-year-old Victoria Henneberry on Tuesday night in Harrow, south of Windsor near Lake Erie. The two are in a Windsor jail and will appear in court via video link.

The Saint Mary's University sociology student has been writing a thesis on missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. Her sister, Delilah Terriak, wrote on Facebook that, considering her familiarity with the subject matter, "she knows better than to just disappear like this."

More than 600 aboriginal women have disappeared or been murdered in Canada over the past 30 years, according to the Native Women's Association of Canada, which is seeking a public inquiry into the highly disproportionate number of cases.

"It's unfortunate that Canadians and Nova Scotians have to realize that this issue is very real, and it can be in anyone's community," Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association, said in a phone interview. "We're working with the family to get the support of the community in Nova Scotia. I'm really hoping people just step up and support them and actually send messages to Stephen Harper that this is an unacceptable thing to be happening in our neighbourhoods."

Ms. Saunders sent her honours thesis proposal to Saint Mary's professor Darryl Leroux three weeks ago, according to a post Mr. Leroux wrote for the Halifax Media Co-op. She planned to investigate three cases of disappearance and/or death of native women in Nova Scotia. Ms. Saunders had sought the guidance of several female Mi'kmaq spiritual and community leaders who have been affected by violence.

"Loretta refused to turn away from the traumatic nature of this violence," Mr. Leroux wrote. "She chose instead to invest all of her energy in a healing journey that would benefit indigenous youth in her home territory and in indigenous communities and territories wherever they encountered her. It was both a deeply personal journey, and one filled with intellectual curiosity."

He said that since her disappearance was announced, "I've been thinking obsessively about getting to read the rest of that project sometime soon because it's far easier than wondering about where she might be."

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Tara Lyle, who studies sociology at Saint Mary's alongside Ms. Saunders, launched a crowdfunding campaign online to help fly family members to Halifax.

Ms. Terriak, who arrived in Halifax from British Columbia on Wednesday, did not respond to requests for an interview, but wrote on Facebook that her sister "has been the prime example of strength and endurance in my life. ... I also didn't know what it meant to feel someone's spirit, but I feel her strength and the essence of who she is and I know it'll help bring her home safe."

Constable Pierre Bourdages of the Halifax Regional Police said officers are trying to find people who may have seen Ms. Saunders or her vehicle, a blue Toyota Celica with Newfoundland and Labrador plates, a rear spoiler and loud muffler.

"We're still looking for sights of her or her vehicle anywhere between Halifax and Windsor," Constable Bourdages said.

Ms. Saunders was last seen wearing blue jeans, a black Columbia jacket and tan boots. She is 5'4, and weighs about 120 pounds. Halifax Regional Police can be reached at 902-490-5020.

Ms. Henneberry had an outstanding arrest warrant for failing to appear in a Halifax court for charges in 2011 not related to the current investigation. Mr. Leggette had an outstanding arrest warrant in Calgary.

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