Indigenous leaders, government to decide on landfill search; police board ‘not the arbiter,’ chairman says


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Winnipeg’s police service and board are leaving it up to Indigenous leaders and governments to come up with a plan and resources to search a landfill for the remains of women slain by an alleged serial killer.

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Winnipeg’s police service and board are leaving it up to Indigenous leaders and governments to come up with a plan and resources to search a landfill for the remains of women slain by an alleged serial killer.

After a meeting between Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth and the board Monday, city Coun. Markus Chambers said neither will take the lead in ongoing discussions about a possible search of the Prairie Green Landfill just north of Winnipeg.

“It was decided the Winnipeg Police Board is not the arbiter in terms of the next decision or decision-making process,” said Chambers, the board’s chair. “There was consultation that was done to determine the feasibility of the search.

“We know the Indigenous community is not satisfied with that, so it’s up to them to reach out to the levels of government… so that it can be determined what those next steps are.”

Police did not comment Monday, while the victims’ families and Indigenous leaders continued to call for a search.

Leaders are consulting outside experts, including a Manitoban who worked on the investigation into B.C. serial killer Robert Pickton.

Detectives believe the remains of Morgan Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 26, were deposited at the privately owned Prairie Green Landfill in the Rural Municipality of Rosser after they were killed in May.

Landfill owner Waste Connections of Canada has temporarily halted operations while talks take place.

Jeremy Skibicki, 35, is accused of killing Harris, Myran, Rebecca Contois, 24, and a woman who hasn’t been identified but has been named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe (Buffalo Woman) by elders.

He is charged with four counts of first-degree murder. The victims are all Indigenous.

Some of Contois’ remains were found while police searched the Brady Road landfill, located on the city’s southern limits, in June.

“However long it takes, we will do whatever it takes.”–Long Plain Chief Kyra Wilson

A section of the landfill was cordoned off within hours of the discovery of partial remains in a garbage bin in North Kildonan last May.

Police decided not to search the four-acre Prairie Green site for Harris and Morgan based on a forensic unit assessment that found there is “no hope” of recovering the women, Smyth said previously.

Police said 10,000 truckloads of waste were dumped at the site before officers learned on June 20 the remains are likely there. The refuse has been compacted with 9,000 tonnes of wet clay.

A police spokesman said Monday the WPS consulted with outside experts, but refused to say who they were or when the consultation took place.

Discussions involving Indigenous leaders, the city, the province and Ottawa began shortly after police announced Dec. 1 that Skibicki is accused of killing three more women, including Harris and Myran, who were members of Long Plain First Nation.

Long Plain Chief Kyra Wilson said the First Nation is working with a group to look at the logistics and cost of searches at Prairie Green and Brady Road.

They’re working on an action plan amid discussions with governments. It’s too early to set a timeline, said Wilson.

“However long it takes, we will do whatever it takes,” she said.

NDP MLA Bernadette Smith is part of a group consulting Brandon University forensic anthropologist Emily Holland, who worked on the Pickton investigation, about the likelihood of finding remains at Prairie Green.

“She figures it’s upward of a 40 per cent chance,” Smith said Monday.

Holland declined to comment.

Smith believes a search will take place, as support and pressure build.

“I’d like people to think if that was their loved one. That should never be someone’s final resting place,” she said. “It needs to happen today. Every day that goes by, there are more challenges.”

Smith’s sister, Claudette Osborne-Tyo, 21, has been missing since 2008.

Within the Indigenous community, people are sensing some movement toward a search taking place, said NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine.

“Any movement that’s occurred has been, first and foremost, because of the (victims’) family members,” she said.

Fontaine noted the families have been confronting “unimaginable” pain while making emotional and public calls for action.

Heidi Spence, director of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak’s MMIWG liaison unit, said there is “a lot of hope” a search will happen.

She said the situation and news coverage have been very difficult for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“It is tough, and kind of reopening that hurt and that pain,” she said, noting the unit is supporting affected families.

Chambers, meanwhile, said any search would be a “humanitarian” effort and would be “beyond the scope” of city police, given the amount of refuse and health and safety concerns.

He noted charges of first-degree murder have been authorized by the Crown based on evidence gathered by police.

“At this point, the police have done their job,” he said. “They have recovered the remains of Rebecca Contois. They have been able to have charges laid in that regard, which has led… to additional charges being laid against Mr. Skibicki.

“From that perspective, they’ve done their due diligence.”

As for whether police would have a presence at a community-led search, Chambers said resources would be needed for public safety and ongoing investigations.

Police would become involved if human remains are found at the landfill, he said.

Chambers suggested the city could improve record-keeping at its facilities to help pinpoint potential search areas at landfills, should the situation arise again.

Fontaine has called on the province to bring in regulations that would tighten record-keeping and require GPS tracking and video cameras on garbage trucks to narrow search areas.

“My hope is this never happens again, but we want to ensure there’s an infrastructure that would, if need be, help the police,” she said.

with files from Dan Lett

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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