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Manitoba government says searching landfill for remains of Indigenous women too risky

Click to play video: 'Stefanson explains decision not to search landfill for remains of victims'
Stefanson explains decision not to search landfill for remains of victims
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson defended the choice not to search the Brady Road landfill on Thursday, saying the decision rests upon the safety of the workers who would search the landfill. Stefanson said the province "would be willing to help out with a memorial if the families wanted to explore that path." – Jul 6, 2023

The Manitoba government appeared to all but shut the door Wednesday on a proposed search for the remains of two slain Indigenous women believed to be in a landfill north of Winnipeg.

Premier Heather Stefanson, after meeting with some relatives of the slain women, cited a recent feasibility study on the proposed search and said it would pose a health risk to workers with no guarantee the remains would be found.

“We understand the desire to leave no stone unturned. However, the search process described in the report is complex, and comes with long-term human health and safety concerns that simply cannot be ignored,” Stefanson said in a written statement.

“Based on the report, we cannot knowingly risk Manitoba workers’ health and safety for a search without a guarantee. As stated in the report, the emotional costs associated with conducting a search and not recovering remains must be considered, as should the emotional costs associated with potential delays and the duration of a search.”

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The premier’s office later clarified that the province would not stop a search if the federal government supports one and can provide sufficient safeguards around the risks.

Click to play video: '‘Their lives mattered’: Indigenous leaders say landfill search a must after study’s release'
‘Their lives mattered’: Indigenous leaders say landfill search a must after study’s release

A daughter of one of the slain women expressed anger and disappointment after the meeting.

“I told (Stefanson) she was retraumatizing my family quite frankly, and I found it disrespectful,” Cambria Harris wrote in a social media post.

“Once again a game of political yo-yo, pointing fingers back at the federal government and (Crown-Indigenous Relations) Minister Marc Miller, who has met with my family on numerous occasions.”

Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are believed to have been killed last year. Police believe the women’s remains were left in a garbage bin three days apart in early May 2022, and the contents of the dumpster were sent to the Prairie Green Landfill.

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Click to play video: 'Landfill search to recover remains of 3  women is ‘feasible’: Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs announce findings of landfill search study'
Landfill search to recover remains of 3 women is ‘feasible’: Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs announce findings of landfill search study

Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in their deaths, as well as the deaths of Rebecca Contois, whose remains were found in another landfill, and an unidentified woman whom Indigenous leaders have named Buffalo Woman. Her remains have not been found.

The federal government funded a study that concluded a canvass of the Prairie Green Landfill is feasible.

It warned there are risks due to exposure to toxic chemicals and asbestos. The search could take up to three years and cost $184 million with no guarantee of success. But the report said forgoing a search could be more harmful for the women’s families.

Last month, another relative said the federal government sat down with the families and expressed support for searching the landfill but hung the onus on the province. Miller’s office has said it is still reviewing the study.

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Click to play video: 'Winnipeg protesters rally after police dismiss investigations into body of woman found at landfill'
Winnipeg protesters rally after police dismiss investigations into body of woman found at landfill

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