Though Morgan Harris struggled deeply in the last 15 years of her life before becoming one of four women now believed to be the victims of an alleged serial killer, her eldest daughter says she will be remembered as feisty and fun.
“She was a mom of five. She was a sister, a cousin, an auntie,” Cambria Harris said in an interview. “She was someone who was very, very loved.”
Family had been searching for Ms. Harris for more than six months when they learned Thursday that police had charged a man with her death and three others.
Jeremy Skibicki, 35, appeared in a Winnipeg courtroom Friday, where he was indicted on three counts of first-degree murder, in connection with the deaths of Ms. Harris, 39, Marcedes Myran, 26, and a third woman who police have not yet been able to identify.
Mr. Skibicki had been previously charged with the first-degree murder of 24-year-old Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found in a garbage bin outside a Winnipeg apartment building on May 16.
The three victims who have been identified were Indigenous women, and police believe the unidentified victim was, as well.
In court on Friday, Mr. Skibicki appeared with his head shaved and sporting a long beard. He did not enter a plea, but his lawyer said Mr. Skibicki maintains his innocence and a trial is likely some time away.
“We just received 10 terabytes today of disclosure and that’s probably not all there is to it,” Leonard Tailleur told reporters outside the courthouse.
The Crown is proceeding by direct indictment, which means there will be no preliminary hearing.
Ms. Contois was from O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, also known as Crane River. Ms. Harris was from Long Plain First Nation, located south of Lake Winnipeg, as was Ms. Myran.
Cambria Harris said her mother began struggling with addictions when Cambria was a small child. But even when she was no longer able to live with her mother, Ms. Harris recalls how her mother made their visits special, playing in a blow-up pool on the front lawn or taking her on bus trips around the city, stopping for candy.
“When I’d go see her, she’d make a point of just visiting with me separately and taking me out – making sure that I felt like I was getting the attention I needed, because she wasn’t able to be there for us.”
She says her mom was loud and feisty, despite a small five-foot frame.
Ms. Harris said she doesn’t know if her mother knew Mr. Skibicki. She said police told her only that he was not a boyfriend.
As she grieves, Ms. Harris said she is also angry. “I’m mad that four Indigenous women’s lives were taken.”
The 21-year-old called on Winnipeg police to reopen their search of the landfill where additional remains of Ms. Contois were discovered, and to exhaust all efforts to find the remains of the other victims.
“My family and all the other families deserve closure,” she said.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller expressed his condolences to the victims’ families on Friday while he acknowledged that progress after the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry has been slow.
“It’s a shock, and another wave of fear for what is the epicentre of what is an ongoing tragedy with respect to Indigenous women,” he said.
“This is something that’s happened before, and the federal government clearly has a responsibility. … The results, despite the investments that we’ve put in – and they’re significant – are trailing. In the face of a tragedy, I think it’s very difficult to talk about success because what we see is this pattern repeating itself.”
Mr. Miller said the government must continue to address the systemic issues that put Indigenous women in vulnerable situations, which include reforming the child-welfare system and opening more shelters.
“This is a legacy of a devastating history that has reverberations today. And no one can stand in front of you with confidence to say this won’t happen again – and I think that’s kind of shameful.”
The inquiry’s final report, published in 2019, said Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than any other women in Canada and six times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women. The inquiry cited an analysis from The Globe and Mail in 2015 that found Indigenous women are roughly seven times more likely than non-Indigenous women to die at the hands of serial killers.