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Loretta Saunders

Loretta Saunders

Note: the following is a (rather belated and slightly edited) archival post of my piece lost month at Autostraddle.

Communities across Canada gather every year on October 4th for “Sisters in Spirit” vigil, an event to commemorate the lives of missing and murdered Aboriginal women of Canada and to demand justice in the face of stubborn indifference from both government and police. This indifference appears despite a very clear pattern of racist-misogynist violence under which Indigenous women in Canada are five to seven times more vulnerable than non-Indigenous women according to the government’s own statistics; however, Amnesty International speculates that even this may be understating the problem as a result of deficiencies in state reporting.

Loretta Saunders, a 26-year old Inuk woman who was studying Criminology at St. Mary’s University, turned in her 28-page thesis proposal in late January of this year in which she intended to detail the cruel violence faced by Canada’s Indigenous women. Yesterday, her body was found in a wooded median along a New Brunswick highway. She was pregnant before her murder.

Her roommates, 25-year old Blake Leggette and 28-year old Victoria Henneberry, had already been arrested by police on charges related to her Feb. 13 disappearance. On Feb. 18 the pair were arrested on charges of fraud and possession of stolen goods — Loretta’s car.

Police have stated that they have identified suspects in the homicide case and that they are not presently seeking any further suspects.

Her thesis advisor Darryl Leroux had given her glowing remarks in response to her thesis proposal (detailed in his own words here), which sadly she will never be able to complete.

At a press conference held within hours of the discovery of Loretta’s body, Cheryl Maloney, President of the Nova Scotia Women’s Association, stated

“I’m never going to let Stephen Harper or Canadians forget about Loretta and all the other missing or murdered aboriginal people.”

and further,

“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… 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?”

Loretta joins a staggering number of other Indigenous women whose families are left grieving and wondering if they’ll ever see change or accountability. We can only hope that her tragic death will serve as a wake-up call to the Canadian government and police forces to take the issue seriously and to empower local communities to prevent violence against vulnerable women in Canada.

Jason Kenney, the sitting Minister of Citizenship and Immigration of Canada, recently sent out a bizarre spam email to many queer and trans Canadians titled “LGBT Refugees from Iran,” which touted the Conservative Government’s supposedly “…principled foreign policy, including our efforts to promote basic freedoms around the world, and to take a stand against the persecution of gays and lesbians, and against the marginalization of women in many societies.”

This might sound a bit odd to the ears of many in Canada’s queer and trans community, especially given last year’s attempt by the Conservative Government to deport queer artist and advocate Alvaro Orozco to Nicaragua— Alvaro’s home country that he had fled for his safety.

That deportation order was ultimately overturned, following a groundswell of support from queer and trans activists (and not apparently because of any particular change of heart in Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government, who never even bothered to send a response to those who had signed a petition on Alvaro’s behalf).

This of course goes without even mentioning the Conservatives more than questionable commitment to trans rights.

Indeed, it turns out that the email addresses for those who received Kenney’s ridiculous spam mail (including myself) were probably yanked from the Alvaro Orozco petition— which seems pretty disingenuous considering that Kenney never bothered to respond on the subject of the petition itself in the first place.

Read the rest of this entry »

Update 2: Tabatha Southey, writing for the Globe and Mail, has put together a really insightful editorial on this issue.

In the last line of the articles she states

Let’s allow a transgender woman, for example, regardless of which private medical procedures she has undergone, to mark her passport “F,” and go on.

She is exactly right, given the present system that we work under. However I have to point out that ultimately I think the real solution is that gender markers should be removed from identification entirely. Otherwise, I think that problems like this will always arise, somehow or other.

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Update: So it seems there are some scattered reports showing up of trans people facing hassle based on these regulations. I want to emphasize that the regulations should definitely go. I think it would be helpful though if we had all those stories together about people being hassled before taking everything public.

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Yesterday a story suddenly broke in Toronto’s trans community: pre-op and non-op trans people would be immediately banned from flying! Indeed there is a quite troubling passage of Canada’s Identity Screening Regulations that reads

5.2 (1) An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if

(c) the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents;

When this came to light, social media went ablaze with stories that trans people would be immediately banned from flying. However, it turns out that this problematic section of the regulations was apparently added July 29th, 2011. Personally, I am a non-op trans woman and I have boarded multiple international flights from Canada since that time with no problem.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these regulations should not be challenged; in fact, we must challenge them. However, before making dramatic over-statements about the issue or drafting petitions over it, let’s take a moment and think about what’s really going on here.

For one thing, let’s think about what demographic most often gets banned from planes in North America. Here’s a hint: it’s not usually trans people. *

Air Canada flight: approach with cautionI called the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) [1 888 294 2202] to ask about the regulations. The person with whom I spoke stated that CATSA checks an individual’s boarding pass and that the boarding pass does not have a gender marker on it, which is certainly true.

My suspicion about this type of regulation is that probably it’s the kind of thing that rarely gets enforced when a privileged white trans person like myself visits the airport. That of course does not mean that we should not fight it; on the contrary, if gender non-conforming individuals from vulnerable racialized communities are targeted under this law, then we should push back with everything we’ve got. The thing is, we don’t know much about how this law is being enforced at present. Maybe it’s not being enforced at all, I have no idea. And before we respond to it, maybe we should figure out what it actually is first and who it actually impacts.

Just a thought.

*okay, unless they’re Muslim too, fair enough.

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