Indigenous leaders in Manitoba are calling on Winnipeg’s police chief to resign, after he refused to search a landfill for the remains of two women believed to be victims of an alleged serial killer.
Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson told a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday that it is hurtful and unacceptable that the police service is willing to leave the women buried among trash. She said Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth should step down.
“To me, the message you are sending to the greater community, to the non-Indigenous community, is that Indigenous women don’t matter – that if somebody wants to target or hurt our women, that they can dump them in the landfill and no one will look for them,” she said.
Winnipeg Police Service investigators believe the remains of Morgan Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 24, who were both members of Long Plain First Nation, are at the Prairie Green landfill, located north of the city. But at a news conference on Tuesday the service told reporters that too much time has passed for the remains to be recoverable and that the site, a four-acre facility owned by Waste Connections of Canada, would be too complicated and dangerous to search.
Winnipeg police announce charges in alleged serial killings of four women
Jeremy Skibicki, 35, has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Ms. Harris and Ms. Myran, as well as those of Rebecca Contois, a member of O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, and a fourth woman who has not been identified, but who is also believed to be Indigenous. First Nations elders have named her Buffalo Woman. Investigators have said they do not know where her remains are.
Mr. Skibicki was first charged with murder in mid-May, after Ms. Contois’s remains were found in a garbage bin outside a Winnipeg apartment building. Additional remains were recovered at the city’s Brady Road landfill.
The three additional first-degree murder charges were laid last week.
Forensics Inspector Cam MacKid told reporters on Tuesday that by the time investigators determined on June 20 that Ms. Harris and Ms. Myran had been killed and that their remains had likely been taken to the Prairie Green landfill, the bodies were believed to have been at the landfill for 34 days. In that time, Insp. MacKid said, 10,000 truckloads of debris had been dumped, which had been compacted and buried in 9,000 tonnes of construction mud, leaving police without any way to narrow a search area.
By contrast, the Brady Road landfill search for Ms. Contois occurred hours after the remains arrived there. The day’s loads were still above ground, and had not yet been compacted.
Winnipeg police did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Neither did Waste Connections of Canada.
Michael Arntfield, a criminologist and professor at the University of Western Ontario who spent 15 years as a detective with the London Police Service, said that while landfill searches are fraught with issues they are also relatively standard.
The description by police of the Prairie Green operations left him with more questions than answers.
“It sounds like a location tailor-made for those looking to delay or prevent the discovery of evidence in any crime,” he said. He added that there are ethical reasons to search for the remains, as well as investigative reasons.
“I can count on two hands the number of cases in the last 40 years or so in Canada where there’s been a successful prosecution without a body,” he said.
Jerry Daniels, Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, joined Ms. Wilson at the news conference in Ottawa. His group represents Anishinaabe and Dakota communities with a total population of 81,000 people.
Also there on Thursday were Ms. Harris’s daughters, Kera and Cambria Harris.
“We are fed up with the lack of action,” Kera said. “On our land, our Indigenous land, stolen land, how dare you tell us you cannot find our missing women.”
Cambria echoed her anger: “We saw this happen with residential schools. Here you are, once again, creating unmarked graves of Indigenous people.”
In a statement Thursday, National Chief RoseAnne Archibald of the Assembly of First Nations expressed her support for the victims’ families’ demands for dignity and justice.
“If these were non-Indigenous women, the search for their bodies would happen without delay,” Ms. Archibald said. “Morgan Beatrice Harris, Marcedes Myran, Rebecca Contois and Buffalo Woman deserve the dignity to be brought home and buried with proper ceremony.”