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Ottawa confirms it will pay for feasibility study of landfill search for women’s remains

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs announced the agreement on Wednesday

The federal government has confirmed it will cover the cost of a feasibility study for a potential search of a landfill near Winnipeg that’s believed to contain the remains of two First Nations women police allege were killed by the same man.

Marc Miller, Canada’s minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, said on Thursday the federal government confirmed that agreement on Wednesday with Cathy Merrick, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

Merrick had already announced the agreement herself that day, saying a local anthropologist would conduct the study along with members of the Winnipeg Police Service, members of Long Plain First Nation — which the slain women were also members of — and a member of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

Miller said the feasibility study on the potential search of the Prairie Green landfill north of Winnipeg “will set the stages for the next conversations that we’ll have with the families, foremost, in the search for closure.”

“It’s a site that is full of a number of complexities and we’re glad to deploy the resources the federal government can,” he said after question period in Ottawa.

Miller had previously promised support of some kind, but stopped short of committing specifically to federal money to cover any costs of a search, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had suggested federal cash may be coming.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said operations at Prairie Green landfill were paused last week, meaning nothing new has been coming into the site.

Only one victim’s remains found

The study will be the first step in determining what will happen at the Prairie Green landfill, which police say they believe holds the remains of Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris, two of the four victims of alleged serial killer Jeremy Skibicki.

Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in those women’s deaths and in the deaths of Rebecca Contois and an unidentified woman who members of the Indigenous community have named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.

Skibicki’s lawyer has said his client intends to plead not guilty to all four charges.

Contois’s partial remains were located in June at the Brady Road landfill in south Winnipeg. Police have said they don’t know where Buffalo Woman’s remains are.

And while they believe Myran and Harris’s remains are at Prairie Green, police said it wouldn’t be feasible to search for them there.

That decision has left families like that of Elle Harris, the daughter of Morgan Harris, unable to properly mourn their loss.

“We all want to have funerals. We want the closure, which we can’t get because nobody’s looking for them,” the 18-year-old said at a rally Thursday outside city hall, where demonstrators called for a search of both the Prairie Green and Brady Road landfills.

While Harris’s daughter said she was glad to see support for the feasibility study, she’s not convinced a search will happen.

“They say they care, but they don’t. Because if they cared, we wouldn’t have to be coming out for these rallies. We wouldn’t have to be protesting about finding our mother’s body,” she said.

Next steps

Miller said the federal government plans to work with the Winnipeg Police Service, the province of Manitoba and the mayor’s office in Winnipeg to ensure a co-ordinated approach to “what is a very, very difficult situation.”

“We don’t want to be tripping over each other. We want to make sure we’re doing this in a way that is sensitive to the needs of the families,” he said.

Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham said he’s been in regular contact with Grand Chief Merrick, who he said has been leading the conversations around the potential landfill search along with Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson.

A committee struck to guide those discussions was scheduled to meet later Thursday, he said during a break of a council meeting at city hall.

Gillingham said the scale, timing and cost of a potential search have not yet been determined, and a decision hasn’t yet been made on whether the study will include the city’s Brady Road landfill.

If that site does end up being searched, Gillingham said he’s communicated he wants to find a way to isolate the areas in question and keep using the parts of the landfill that aren’t needed for the search.

Miller said the culturally sensitive feasibility study will determine what resources are available through police, the province and the federal government and “to see what resources are necessary to recover bodies.”

The update comes after Manitoba First Nations leaders and Indigenous groups sent a letter earlier this week calling on the federal government to fund their landfill search and to call in the United Nations for support.


Support is available for anyone affected by details of this case. If you require support, you can contact Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Medicine Bear Counselling, Support and Elder Services at 204-594-6500, ext. 102 or 104, (within Winnipeg) or 1-888-953-5264 (outside Winnipeg).

Support is also available via Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison unit at 1-800-442-0488 or 204-677-1648.

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