Forensic experts who studied the feasibility of searching a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of two slain First Nations women say the risks associated with combing through the site could be mitigated, rejecting Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson’s assertion that such a search is too dangerous.
Indigenous leaders have been calling for a search of the Prairie Green landfill since Winnipeg Police announced in December that the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are believed to be in the dump, and had been by that point for months. Though a study concluded a search would be possible, albeit expensive and time-consuming, the Premier has refused to fund one, citing safety risks.
Forensic consultant Kris Dueck and forensic anthropologist Emily Holland, who co-chaired the technical feasibility study of a search at Prairie Green, spoke publicly about their findings for the first time Monday as they reiterated that it would be possible to safely search the site, located north of Winnipeg.
“The technical side of the feasibility study has been reviewed now by many, and it’s pretty clear to most who have read the study that risks can be mitigated, and the search can be conducted safely,” Mr. Dueck said at a press conference, put on by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. “Any argument that would oppose those findings, in our opinion, aren’t necessarily based in fact.”
Winnipeg Police believe Ms. Harris, 39, and Ms. Myran, 26, both members of Long Plain First Nation, were allegedly killed by a serial killer last spring, and that their remains were then disposed of and transported to the Prairie Green landfill. Investigators came to that conclusion last June – but did not share it with the women’s families or the public until December, when they announced charges against Jeremy Skibicki.
The revelation sparked immediate outrage from the community and Indigenous leaders.
Mr. Skibicki is also charged with the murder of Rebecca Contois, 24, whose partial remains were found at a different landfill in May, 2022, as well as a fourth woman, who has not been identified or located. She is also believed to be Indigenous, and elders have named her Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe or Buffalo Woman.
That anger was reignited after Ms. Stefanson met with the families earlier this month and informed them that she would not support a search.
Melissa Robinson, a cousin of Ms. Harris who attended the press conference Monday, said she walked out of that meeting after it became clear Ms. Stefanson had not even fully read the report.
In an e-mail statement Monday, Cameron Eason, a spokesperson for Ms. Stefanson, said she “continues to offer supports for the families, and has offered to work with all levels of government on building a memorial in honour of the victims.”
“There is no guarantee of finding remains, and immediate and long term health and safety risks are real and cannot be ignored,” the statement said.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller criticized the Premier’s decision last week, describing it as “heartless.” He said the federal government would not proceed without provincial co-operation.
At the press conference Monday, Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson said every level of government is responsible for conducting a search.
“I am urging each level of government to listen, and to meet with us, and to meet with our experts,” she said.
The expert panel reiterated Monday that landfills have been successfully searched before, including as recently as 2021, when Toronto Police recovered the body of a suspected murder victim from a London, Ont., landfill owned by the City of Toronto, eight months after they believe the remains were transported there.
But the main case study cited by Dr. Holland and Mr. Dueck was the 2002 search of the British Columbia pig farm owned by serial killer Robert Pickton, where the remains or DNA of 33 women were found. The Pickton farm was 14 acres. The Prairie Green landfill is four acres.
Dr. Holland said Monday that she has not heard from the Premier, but is available to answer any questions about how risks can be mitigated.
“The final report was not meant to be the end of the conversation, but rather to help continue to facilitate one,” she said. “And I hope that’s what comes out of this press conference today.”
The Premier’s decision to rule out a search prompted a blockade outside the Brady Road landfill, where Ms. Contois’s partial remains were recovered. The city won a court injunction on Friday, though the blockade had not yet been removed by Monday afternoon.
Ms. Robinson told Monday’s news conference that a second camp would be set up outside the city’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights to bring awareness to their calls for a search, but she said that the existing camp – known as Camp Morgan in Ms. Harris’s honour – would remain standing.
“I can assure you that Camp Morgan at Brady is not going anywhere, until our landfills are searched,” she said.
Ms. Myran’s grandmother Donna Bartlett said she was left hurt and angry by the Premier’s refusal to lead a search.
“We need them home. We need to give them a place to rest. Their children need them home.”