Search for remains at Winnipeg landfill could take years and cost up to $184 million: feasibility study

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Searching for the remains of two First Nations women at a Winnipeg-area landfill could take up to three years and cost $184 million, according to a study examining whether a successful search is possible.

The study, obtained by The Canadian Press, looked at the various scenarios and challenges involved in finding a landfill and concluded that an investigation of the Prairie Green landfill is feasible.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has scheduled a press conference for Friday at noon to discuss the results and share next steps.

Assembly leaders, members of the Long Plain First Nation and family members of Rebecca Contois, Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran – three Indigenous women who Jeremy Skibicki is accused of killing – are expected to attend.

CBC News will broadcast the press conference live here starting at noon CT.

From left to right: Morgan Beatrice Harris, Marcedes Myran and Rebecca Contois. Jeremy Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of the three women, as well as a fourth, whom community members have named Buffalo Woman, because police do not know her identity. (Submitted by Cambria Harris, Donna Bartlett and Darryl Contois)

The feasibility study warns of “considerable risks” in a search due to exposure to toxic chemicals and asbestos, but that forgoing the search could be more harmful to the families of Harris and Myran.

Contois’s remains were found at the City of Winnipeg’s Brady Road landfill in June 2022. Winnipeg police said they believe Harris and Myran were somewhere in Prairie Green, a private settlement in the Rural Municipality of Rosser.

“Failure to conduct the search could cause considerable distress to the victim’s family members,” the report said.

“The impact of not conducting a humanitarian search and recovery for the remains of Morgan and Marcedes, while they may be in the Prairie Green landfill, could have lasting repercussions on families, loved ones. friends, loved ones and First Nations and Indigenous communities in Manitoba and across Canada.

An Indigenous-led committee headed by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs commissioned the feasibility study after police said they would not search the Prairie Green site due to the passage of time and large volume material deposited there.

The committee included family members, First Nations leaders, forensic experts, and provincial and city officials.

The study says there is no guarantee that a search would locate the women’s remains.

It could take one to three years and cost between $84 million and $184 million.

Signs and red dresses hang on a fence outside a landfill site south of Winnipeg.
A sign with a photo of Rebecca Contois, whose remains were found at the Brady Road Landfill, hangs outside the dump in south Winnipeg earlier this year. The sign and others include the hashtag #searchthelandfill. (Alexia Bille/Radio-Canada)

The report says police believe the women’s remains were left in a dumpster three days apart in early May 2022. The contents of the dumpster were sent to the Prairie Green landfill on May 16.

Skibicki was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of the three women, as well as a fourth who remains unidentified but whom Indigenous leaders have named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.

The police did not find his body.

The report says governments should consider the potential societal costs of conducting research, including the emotional impact on families.

“Nothing about potential research of this size and magnitude is easy, and the cost to First Nations and Indigenous families and communities must be considered with the appropriate supports made available,” it says. he.

“Until Marcedes and Morgan are properly sent home, these women, their families and all of our communities are enduring sacrilege.”

The research plans proposed in the report take into account family wishes, traditional teachings, dangers and risks, research processes, equipment and personnel requirements, timelines and costs.

The committee referred to studies of other landfill searches and said they are complex, can be important and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. .

Some of the main concerns outlined in the report related to health and safety. It is recommended that hazardous materials crews be on site at all times to monitor air quality, act as safety officers, and decontaminate personnel who are in an excavation pit or working near the excavated material.

Another concern is the possibility of a lateral break. The report says excavation along a debris slope could lead to a landslide.

The committee says using a treadmill to sift through the debris would be the best option.

In order to proceed with research, Prairie Green would need to submit a proposal to a regulatory body to approve the excavation and transportation of materials.

The report does not say who should pay for the research.

It was submitted last week to the office of federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller. Ottawa provided $500,000 to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs for the study.

Cambria Harris says in the report that she feels like she’s been living in a “horror movie” since discovering her mother’s murder and the police’s decision not to search the landfill.

Harris expressed his rage on Parliament Hill in December and called on governments to take the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls more seriously.

“These women have never been respected in life, and they have been miserably abandoned by governments and different levels of systems,” she wrote.

“In life and in death, we still let them down by making the decision not to search for the remains known to have been there for months.”

The study also calls for increased funding for social supports and homeless shelters.

He recommends mandatory GPS tracking systems and rear-facing cameras in garbage trucks in Canada, as well as video surveillance installed at landfill entrances and exits.

Assistance is available for anyone concerned with the details of this case. If you need help, you can contact Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Medicine Bear Counseling, Support and Elder Services at 204-594-6500, ext. 102 or 104 (in Winnipeg) or 1-888-953-5264 (outside Winnipeg).

Support is also available through the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison Unit at 1-800-442-0488 or 204-677-1648.

People outside of Manitoba can call 1-844-413-6649, an independent, national, toll-free support line that provides emotional assistance.

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