Eliza Robertson is the author of I Got a Name: The Murder of Krystal Senyk.
As officials debate whether to excavate a Winnipeg landfill in search of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran, two missing First Nations women, it exposes a painfully on-the-nose question: Are we willing to sort through our own historical trash to protect Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, or in this case, to bring home the women and girls we’ve already failed to keep safe? The trash is literal: plastic bottles, disposable diapers, chicken bones, corrugated boxes and old tires we’ve tossed away. And the trash is symbolic: the centuries of colonialism, genocide, institutional racism and misogyny that threatened these women’s lives in the first place.
Morgan Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 24, are two women from Long Plain First Nation believed to be murdered by alleged serial killer Jeremy Skibicki. Mr. Skibicki is already charged with the murders of two other Indigenous women, whose remains were found in June, 2022: 26-year-old Rebecca Contois, and a person who has not been identified, whom the community has named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.
In response to the Winnipeg Police’s reluctance to search the Prairie Green landfill, where they believe the remains of Ms. Harris and Ms. Myran will be found, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs spearheaded an investigation into whether such a search would be feasible. Their conclusions: Yes, it is feasible. Yes, it will be costly. Yes, it must be done.
The search would take one to three years and cost between $84-million and $184-million. There would be considerable physical risks, thanks to the presence of toxic chemicals and asbestos. Yet to refuse these costs – to deem our own garbage too toxic and pricey to sift through – sends a devastating message to Canadians: 1. You may dispose human bodies in the dump and get away with it. 2. We don’t respect the victims enough to give them a more dignified resting ground. To give their families and communities a place to pay respects. A place they can visit with their orphaned children on Mother’s Day.
While $84-million to $184-million is a sizable investment, it pales in comparison to the wider costs of gender-based violence, the burden of which falls on victims and survivors. According to a Justice Canada study focused on 2009, Canadian violent crime had an economic impact of $12.7-billion that year. Sexual violence was the largest category named in this report, amounting to $4.8-billion of the total toll. The economic burden fell on the victims themselves, who were liable for 83 per cent ($10.6-billion of the total $12.7-billion) to pay for medical care, court fees, lost wages, as well as the intangible damages incurred from pain, psychological distress and reduced quality of life. A second Justice Canada report found that the costs associated with intimate partner violence equalled $7.4-billion the same year. Of this number, victims bore 81 per cent ($6-billion) of the total sum in medical fees, lost wages, lost education, stolen or damaged property, as well as continuing pain and suffering. Due to the limited data available, and the fact that 80 per cent of intimate partner violence cases go unreported, the true costs are likely much higher.
While the upper estimate of $184-million to search for Ms. Harris and Ms. Myran may sound like a large number to bring home the remains of two people, it’s only the final sticker amount that concludes a long, invisible tally of other costs borne by Mr. Skibicki’s victims and survivors, as well as their loved ones and communities. The fact is, $184-million isn’t simply the price of excavating a cell of a Winnipeg dump. It’s the price of not intervening earlier. Of not providing housing, mental-health services or timely support for people in vulnerable situations. Of underestimating the dangers of a publicly misogynist, white supremacist, abusive and violent man.
One of the many agonizing details of Mr. Skibicki’s case is the fact that he’d navigated the court system twice before for assaulting and threatening to kill previous partners. The first time, he spent two months in prison before getting released on probation. The second, in 2021, the assault charges were stayed because the court deemed his estranged wife’s testimony “unreliable” due to her “memory issues” – caused by the concussion he allegedly gave her. Like most other femicides in Canada, the murders of Ms. Harris, Ms. Myran, Ms. Contois and Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe were foreseeable and preventable, yet they happened anyway, because we haven’t yet learned how to hold each other to account. We mistake public racism and misogyny as “free speech.” We make it painful, arduous and expensive for survivors to come forward after experiencing violent crime. We deride traces of their physical and psychological trauma as “unreliable.” And we make them pay billions of dollars for that trauma every year. Yes, searching for Ms. Harris and Ms. Myran will be expensive – and it should be, because failing to protect Indigenous women and girls in the first place far exceeds those costs.