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Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth has faced growing criticism, including calls to resign, for the force’s refusal to search the Prairie Green landfill for the remains of two women believed to be victims of an alleged serial killer.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Winnipeg police say they will work with Indigenous leaders to determine whether it’s feasible to search a landfill site for the remains of two women they believe to have been victims of an alleged serial killer.

Police Chief Danny Smyth has faced growing criticism, including calls to resign, for the force’s refusal to search the landfill for the women’s remains. He appeared to change course on Wednesday after a meeting with Cathy Merrick, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and Kyra Wilson, Chief of Long Plain First Nation.

“Chief Smyth is supportive of the collaborative efforts by Chief Merrick to recover the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran,” the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) said in a press release, which noted that the force “will participate on a working committee led by Grand Chief Merrick on the feasibility of a recovery search.”

Ms. Harris, 39, and Ms. Myran, 24, both members of Long Plain First Nation, are thought to have been buried at the Prairie Green landfill for more than six months. They are among four women believed to have been killed within weeks of each other in what police have described as serial killings.

Jeremy Skibicki, 35, was initially charged with first-degree murder in May, after the partial remains of 26-year-old Rebecca Contois, a member of O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, were found in a garbage bin outside a Winnipeg apartment building, and then later at the Brady Road landfill.

Two weeks ago, police charged Mr. Skibicki with the deaths of Ms. Harris, Ms. Myran, and a woman who has not yet been identified. The unidentified woman is also believed to be Indigenous, and elders have named her Buffalo Woman. Police do not know the whereabouts of her remains.

While investigators believe the remains of Ms. Harris and Ms. Myran are at the Prairie Green landfill, they’ve argued that it would be too dangerous and difficult to conduct a search, given the conditions of the site and the time that has passed.

Indigenous leaders and advocates have pointed to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The inquiry released 231 calls for justice, including better training for police officers about Indigenous history, culture and language.

“No Indigenous woman should be left in a landfill,” Marion Buller, who was chief commissioner of the inquiry, said in a text message on Wednesday. “It is encouraging that the WPS and Indigenous leaders will discuss the feasibility of a search for the much-loved women. My heart goes out to their families. It is important that all Indigenous women are treated with respect. It is imperative that the genocide ends.”

Manitoba Indigenous leaders sent a letter to the federal government this week, in which they asked Ottawa to provide immediate resources to study the feasibility of a search and to provide the women’s families with resources to conduct their own if needed.

The office of Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller issued a statement that said the government is reviewing the letter.

Murray Sinclair, a former senator and retired Manitoba judge who oversaw a national inquiry into the residential-school system, said in an interview that police have a legal obligation to see the investigation through.

“We’re not talking about having to look through 40 acres of land. This is a very fixed location, with a very fixed set of parameters,” he said. “And if they say, ‘We’re not going to completely investigate this crime because it’s too difficult,’ then where do they draw the line?”

Mr. Sinclair asked whether police would be as reluctant if the victims were not Indigenous. “Would they not be pursuing it to the ends of the Earth literally? And I think the answer to that is that as a society, we suspect they would be.”

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