The scuffle broke out shortly after Judge Anne Derrick left the courtroom for a brief break following testimony on the third day of a preliminary hearing.
An uncle of Saunders was in the third row of the public gallery and muttering expletives directed at the two accused when he suddenly lunged forward, yelling. He was among a number of Saunders's loved ones who wore T-shirts bearing the words "speak the truth" and a picture of Saunders with her father.
Two sheriffs and other people in the gallery struggled to restrain the man while four other sheriffs rushed the accused, Blake Leggette and Victoria Henneberry, through a back door to a secure area behind the courtroom.
Two more sheriffs burst into the courtroom and were able to subdue the man, who was led out of the courtroom and asked not to return.
Other people in the gallery sobbed, wailed and embraced each other as the man was led away.
One woman pleaded with everyone to remain calm.
"We are here for Loretta," she said.
Leggette, 26, and Henneberry, 28, were charged with first-degree murder two weeks after Saunders disappeared from her Halifax apartment in February.
The 26-year-old woman's body was found in a wooded area off the Trans-Canada Highway in New Brunswick. Saunders, a Labrador Inuit woman, was a student at Saint Mary's University in Halifax who focused her studies on missing and murdered aboriginal women.
When the preliminary hearing resumed later in the day, someone in the public gallery shouted, "Coward!" as Leggette and Henneberry were waiting to be escorted from the courtroom, prompting admonishment from Derrick.
Speaking outside court, Leggette's defence lawyer said he was worried for his client's safety during the scuffle earlier in the day.
"That was quite the scary moment this morning," said Terrance Sheppard. "I was concerned for Mr. Leggette's safety, that (he) was going to be attacked by some of the family members."
The preliminary hearing is scheduled to resume Thursday.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had an incorrect spelling for Judge Anne Derrick.