Family tells hearings that a ‘white-passing’ appearance alters police reaction

MEMBERTOU, N.S. — Relatives of a murdered Inuk woman say that merely appearing white heightens police and public interest in a crime or missing person case.

Loretta Saunders’ sister, Delilah Saunders, and their mother Meriam made the comments today as they spoke to the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Women and Girls.

Forty witnesses are expected to testify during three days of hearings at Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton.

Saunders’ body was found at the side of a New Brunswick highway in February 2014, leading to murder convictions against Halifax residents Blake Leggette and his girlfriend Victoria Henneberry.

They killed Saunders after they ran into financial difficulties and were unable to pay rent they owed her.

During the hearings in Membertou, Meriam Saunders said police initially said the case involved a missing white woman, and she said she found it more difficult to get information from officers after they started to correctly refer to her as an Inuk woman.

Delilah Saunders says her sister had shared experiences with her about the phenomenon of “white-passing people,” a phrase that refers to the tendency for people to treat non-white people differently if they have features that cause others to think they’re white.

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