Discovery of Indigenous woman’s body at city landfill reverberates across Canada
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to do more to end violence against Indigenous women and girls, after the body of a First Nations mother was found Monday at a Winnipeg landfill.
The prime minister joined an outpouring of grief over the suspicious death of Linda Beardy, while there were renewed calls Wednesday for a search of the Brady Road facility for human remains.
“It is heartbreaking to see this continue to happen,” Trudeau told reporters during a televised news conference in Alliston, Ont.
He said his “heart goes out” to the family of Beardy, 33, as he acknowledged the government must do more to counter gender-based violence.
“We will continue to be there with the community as it grieves, but we will also continue to be there to put an end to this unconscionable violence.”
Beardy’s death is being investigated by the Winnipeg Police Service’s homicide unit.
Her family is involved in organizing a rally and march to call for justice Friday, starting at Portage Avenue and Main Street.
Staff at the City of Winnipeg’s only active landfill found Beardy’s body in an active area, 10 months after remains belonging to Indigenous woman Rebecca Contois were discovered, amid an investigation into an alleged serial killer.
Beardy’s body was deposited by a garbage truck a couple of hours before it was found, police said at a news conference Tuesday.
After speaking to Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said the find “reflected some heightened vigilance” by landfill staff.
Police remained at the south end waste collection facility, which is closed until further notice.
Beardy was a mother of four from Lake St. Martin First Nation, about 250 kilometres northwest of the capital. She had been living in Winnipeg.
Lake St. Martin councillor Alex Traverse said the death is the latest tragedy since residents were displaced by a devastating flood in 2011.
The entire community was rebuilt in a new location.
“Since the 2011 flood, our community has been really struggling,” said Traverse, adding more than 150 residents have died since being displaced.
Some were killed or died by suicide. Community leaders believe the upheaval contributed to illnesses which claimed others.
Lake St. Martin’s council is meeting Thursday to discuss support for Beardy’s family.
“A lot of people are in shock, for a young woman of that age to, unfortunately, pass away like that,” said Traverse.
Detectives do not believe Beardy’s death is linked to the alleged serial slayings of Contois and three other Indigenous women last year.
Monday’s discovery was triggering for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“I was upset and emotional. It’s frustrating that they don’t search these landfills,” said Susan Caribou, whose niece, Tanya Nepinak, has been missing since 2011. She was 31.
Police searched Brady Road for Nepinak’s body in 2012, but made no discoveries.
NDP MLA Bernadette Smith, whose sister, Claudette Osborne-Tyo, went missing in 2008, at 21, felt emotional for Beardy’s family: “It just feels like a continuation of an erasure of our women. It feels like it’s never-ending.”
Caribou and Smith joined Indigenous groups in calling for a search of Brady Road landfill.
“My niece might be there. No woman deserves to be left in the trash,” said Caribou. “I’ve been advocating for her for so many years, and it still hurts. I won’t give up.”
Cathy Merrick, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, wants Brady Road to be permanently shut down and replaced with a new landfill that includes measures to help police investigations in similar situations.
“I know there are lots of (Indigenous women) that have been missing throughout time, and I’m pretty sure that some of those women are in the Brady landfill,” she said Wednesday.
The city would not comment.
With federal funding, an Indigenous-led committee is studying the feasibility of searching the privately-owned Prairie Green Landfill, after last year’s alleged serial killings.
Police believe the remains of Morgan Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 26, were deposited at the site just north of the city in May. Investigators have not determined the likely location of an unidentified victim known as Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe (Buffalo Woman).
Partial remains belonging to Contois, 24, were found in a garbage bin in North Kildonan in May. Police found additional remains while searching Brady Road in June.
Jeremy Skibicki, 36, is facing four counts of first-degree murder.
The case led to protests at Brady Road and calls for a permanent halt to dumping until a search is completed.
The Indigenous-led committee is also planning a feasibility study for Brady Road.
At a news conference in Ottawa, Miller wouldn’t say if the federal government will commit funds for a future search of either site, given the initial study hasn’t been completed.
However, he said he told Gillingham the federal government “will certainly be there for the long haul.”
Beardy’s death has also renewed calls for additional preventative measures, better tracking of garbage trucks and loads deposited at Manitoba landfills, and more support for MMIWG families.
Garbage trucks used by the city have GPS and video cameras.
Smith said the 231 calls for justice in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls must be implemented.
Advocates said change must also occur within attitudes and understanding of the MMIWG crisis.
“Society, that is the biggest thing that is going to need to shift and change — how we treat each other,” said Smith. “This affects everyone.”
Speaking at an unrelated event, Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen and Coun. Markus Chambers, chairman of the Winnipeg Police Board, acknowledged prevention and supports for the vulnerable are key to protecting Indigenous women and girls.
Goertzen expressed hope a new integrated missing persons response unit, announced last month, will help.
— with files from Carol Sanders, The Canadian Press
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, April 6, 2023 11:21 AM CDT: Fixes typo