Manitoba premier pledges support to study feasibility of landfill search for women’s remains

Manitoba premier pledges support to study feasibility of landfill search for women’s remains

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson has pledged her government’s support for a feasibility study into a possible search for a landfill site near Winnipeg believed to contain the remains of two First Nations policewomen allegedly killed by were killed by the same man.

Stefanson also offered to help fund the study that will determine whether to excavate the Prairie Green landfill north of Winnipeg, a day after the federal government agreed to pay for the study.

The announcement came after a meeting between the Prime Minister, Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and Chief Kyra Wilson of Long Plain First Nation, where the women killed were members.

“We will provide any necessary technical resources, expertise, and contribute financially to the effort,” Stefanson said at a news conference alongside Merrick, adding that the effort is led by indigenous people.

“We must keep an eye on the judicial process, but we must also ensure a respectful and proper feasibility study as to whether these bodies can be recovered.”

Merrick said she was grateful for the prime minister’s involvement but also noted that government support for the feasibility study came after one of the murdered women’s daughters traveled to Ottawa to request a search the landfill.

“It is so heartbreaking to hear young women speak out about their mothers that they had to do it nationally to raise awareness of this issue of our missing and murdered women in this province and in other provinces,” Merrick said.

Two women hug next to a pedestal.  Behind is a Canadian flag and a background with the Manitoba government logo.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick and Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson embraced at a news conference where the PM announced her administration would support a feasibility study into a possible search for human remains at a landfill. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

“We have to act as politicians to make sure that doesn’t happen. … We are here today to begin this journey, to be able to work together.”

After Merrick spoke, the leaders hugged before answering questions from reporters.

Stefanson said she also spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday morning and thanked him for his involvement in the matter.

She added the province is waiting to see what the indigenous communities involved in the feasibility study process want to see before deciding the details of their own support.

Stefanson said the province will also assign staffers to represent them on a committee set up to lead the study, which Merrick said met for the first time Thursday and will meet again Monday.

An aerial view shows a vast, snow-covered field.
An aerial view of the Prairie Green landfill in the rural community of Rosser, Manitoba. (Trevor Sole/CBC)

The Grand Chief previously said a local anthropologist would conduct the study along with members of the Winnipeg Police Service, members of the Long Plain First Nation, and a member of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham said Thursday the city will also be represented.

Remains are believed to be in a landfill

Police say they believe the landfill contains the remains of Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris, two of the four victims of suspected serial killer Jeremy Skibicki.

Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of those women and in the deaths of Rebecca Contois and an unidentified woman who is a leader in the indigenous community called Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe or Buffalo Woman. Contois was a member of the O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, also known as Crane River, while police say they believe Buffalo Woman was also indigenous.

Contois’ partial remains were Found at the Brady Road landfill earlier this year in south Winnipeg and near an apartment in north Kildonan where police were searching garbage cans.

Police said they don’t know where Buffalo Woman’s remains are.

And while they believe the remains of Myran and Harris are on Prairie Green, police said so was not searchable for them when they became aware that the remains might have been there in June.

A woman in a pink button-up and blazer with glasses on her head speaks with a pained expression against the backdrop of the Canadian and Manitoban flags.
Cathy Merrick, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, says she is grateful for the prime minister’s commitment, but also noted that government support for the feasibility study only came after one of the murdered women’s daughters traveled to Ottawa to conduct a research request a search of the landfill. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

They found that after the load they were interested in, 10,000 loads of rubble had been dumped at the landfill and that the rubbish was later compacted with 9,000 tons of wet heavy construction soil.

Skibicki’s attorney has told his clients intends to plead not guilty to all four charges.

Stefanson said the scope of the feasibility study currently only includes the Prairie Green landfill and not the Brady Road landfill where protesters have been Call for a similar searchbut did not rule out an extension.

Only part of the Prairie Green landfill closed

Stefanson and Gillingham announced the operation of the privately owned landfill at Prairie Green last week was pausedmeaning that nothing new would come to the site when the next steps were determined.

She clarified Friday that while this hiatus will last indefinitely until clear direction is established by the feasibility study, only one cell at the landfill, operated by Waste Connections of Canada, will be affected. Stefanson didn’t know how much of the landfill was in it.

Stefanson and Family Minister Rochelle Squires also could not say whether the province is taking steps to improve safety in shelters, after numerous sources told CBC News Skibicki visited soup kitchens and homeless shelters in downtown Winnipeg, met women he would take home to his apartment.

Both pointed to a recent provincial-announced boost in funding for emergency shelters, which some agencies receiving that money said would improve services, but would not create more capacity.

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