A Winnipeg judge granted an injunction Friday to end the blockade of a local landfill, where dozens of protesters have been calling on both the provincial and federal governments to search for the remains of slain First Nations women at two such facilities in the region.
Protesters have been blocking access to the Brady Road landfill since last week, after Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson announced she would not support the search of another site, the Prairie Green landfill, where investigators say the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are believed to be. Ms. Harris, Ms. Myran and two other women are alleged to be the victims of a serial killer.
A federally funded feasibility study concluded earlier this year that a search for the women would be possible but could take up to three years at a cost of up to $184-million. Ms. Stefanson said the province would not fund such a search, arguing that it would be too risky with no guarantee that the women’s remains would be found.
The City of Winnipeg sought a court injunction to clear the blockade, arguing that the continued shutdown of the city’s main landfill posed significant safety and environmental concerns.
Lawyers for the demonstrators argued their clients had a right to protest systemic violence against Indigenous women.
After two adjournments earlier this week, Justice Sheldon Lanchbery granted the temporary injunction Friday afternoon.
“The city needs to operate its facility in the manner that it’s authorized to do so without interruption,” the judge told a Winnipeg courtroom on Friday. He said demonstrators can continue to protest, and can hand out materials or talk with people passing by, but they cannot block the roadway into the landfill.
The temporary injunction was set to go into effect Friday at 6 p.m. and remain in place until a later hearing.
A 35-year-old Winnipeg man, Jeremy Skibicki, was charged last December with murder in the deaths of Ms. Harris and Ms. Myran of Long Plain First Nation. He is also charged with the first-degree murder in the deaths of two other women, Rebecca Contois and a fourth woman who has not been identified, but who is also believed to be Indigenous and whom elders have named Buffalo Woman.
Mr. Skibicki was first charged last May, after Ms. Contois’s partial remains were discovered in a garbage bin outside a Winnipeg apartment building, and then at the Brady Road landfill.
Police said they determined the following month that Ms. Harris and Ms. Myran had been killed by the same man, around the same time. And though they were confident the women’s remains had been similarly disposed of and transported to the Prairie Green landfill, they decided it would be too difficult and dangerous to recover them.
They did not make families aware of this determination until the additional charges against Mr. Skibicki were announced six months later.
The revelation that they’d left the women’s remains in the dump – while their families hung missing-person signs and posted desperate pleas to social media for information about their whereabouts – sparked immediate outrage from the community, and led to the federally commissioned feasibility study. Those tensions have heightened since the Premier announced she would not be supporting a search.
Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson said she was disappointed the issue ended up in court rather than with a commitment to mount a search.
“It shouldn’t be this way,” she said. “We should be actually coming to some sort of discussion or agreement, whether that’s with the city or the federal government or the provincial government.”
She stressed that the blockade, which has been named Camp Morgan in honour of Ms. Harris, has always been peaceful.
“We are always just trying to bring awareness to the issue – and that is searching the landfills for our women that are there.”
Ms. Harris’s daughter Cambria posted to social media Friday after the injunction was granted: “When you have to bring MMIW families to court for fighting to bring their mom home for a ceremonial burial, you know the path to reconciliation is dead.” (MMIW refers to missing and murdered Indigenous women.)
Ms. Stefanson’s office declined to comment on the injunction and instead pointed to the Premier’s earlier comments defending the province’s decisions.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller criticized the Manitoba government this week for what he described as a “heartless” decision not to mount a search. He said the federal government did not have the jurisdiction to mount its own search. Renelle Arsenault, spokesperson for the minister’s office, said in a statement Friday that Mr. Miller would continue pressing the Manitoba government.