Danny Smyth says he will not be stepping down as chief of the Winnipeg Police Service and supports exploring options to recover the remains of two Indigenous women believed to be in a landfill outside the city.
In statement sent to media and posted online late Friday afternoon, Smyth responded to calls for his resignation from Manitoba First Nations leaders following the WPS decision not to search a landfill for the remains of the two victims of an alleged serial killer.
Read more: First Nations leaders call for resignation of Winnipeg police chief amid landfill controversy
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), alongside Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson, called for Smyth to step down Thursday.
In Friday’s statement, which police said had also been sent to Indigenous leaders, Smyth said he understands the calls for his resignation but remains “committed to securing a criminal conviction for these heinous crimes.”
“One of my duties as the chief of police is to ensure that thorough investigations are conducted that gather evidence to hold criminal offenders to account,” he said. “To that end, I have performed my duties to the best of my ability.”
Winnipeg police have been under increasing pressure to search the Prairie Greens landfill just north of Winnipeg since Smyth said last week that investigators believe the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran, who were both from Long Plain but lived in Winnipeg, ended up in the landfill in the spring.
Smyth has said the chances of finding them are very low.
At a press conference this week Smyth cited the passage of time, the fact that 10,000 truckloads of refuse were dumped in the area in recent months, and that trash at the landfill is compacted with heavy mud at a depth of about 12 metres.
He acknowledged the families’ pain and anger and said this was not how he wanted the searches to end.
Harris’s family has joined in the call for Smyth to resign.
Jeremy Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, Myran, Rebecca Contois and a fourth unidentified woman that Indigenous leaders have called Buffalo Woman. Skibicki’s lawyer has told Global News his client plans to plead not guilty to all charges.
Police believe the women were killed in the spring, although investigators have so far only located Contois’s body. Her partial remains were found in a garbage bin in the city and in a separate landfill in the spring.
Read more: Landfill operations paused as discussions of potential search for murdered women’s remains continue
In Friday’s statement, Smyth called the case “one of the most complex and important homicide investigations during my tenure.”
“Difficult decisions were made to advance the investigation so that charges could be brought against Jeremy Skibicki. Evidence was painstakingly gathered and presented to the Crown prosecutor who authorized four 1st degree murder charges,” he said.
Smyth said he has extended an offer to meet with Indigenous leaders to discuss the challenges, and said he remains committed to “actions that prevent victimization and exploitation of women, and I support efforts that provide respect and dignity to women, their families and the larger MMIWG2S+ community.”
The Winnipeg Police Board met with Smyth and investigators on Thursday night, as calls to search the site intensified. On Friday the board said decisions on next steps in a potential search — including the option of bringing in outside help — are being worked through.
Smyth said he is supportive of “further exploring whether it is possible to recover the remains of Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris” and said he would work with “whomever the Mayor assigns to the important initiative.”
Read more: Winnipeg police chief says homicide victims’ bodies likely at landfill, but no plans to search
“I have heard the calls from the families, the Indigenous leadership, and the community. I understand your calls; the pain and sorrow is unimaginable,” he said.
“I want justice for Rebecca, Marcedes, Morgan and Buffalo Woman. I will not be resigning.”
— with files from The Canadian Press
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