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Daughters of murdered Winnipeg woman call on police to recover remains from landfill

December 6, 2022
Cambria Harris, daughter of Morgan Harris, speaks during a news conference calling on the federal government to take action to end violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Dec. 6.

The Globe and Mail: Daughters of a Winnipeg woman believed to be the victim of an alleged serial killer are calling on police to recover her remains from a local landfill that officials say is not feasible to search.

Morgan Harris, 39, was named by Winnipeg police last week as one of four Indigenous women who were killed in a matter of weeks earlier this year. Jeremy Skibicki, 35, has been charged with first-degree murder in her death, as well as the deaths of Rebecca Contois, 26; Marcedes Myran, 24; and a woman who has not yet been identified, but whom elders have named Buffalo Woman.

Mr. Skibicki was initially arrested after Ms. Contois’s partial remains were found in a garbage bin outside an apartment building on May 16. Additional remains were then recovered from a local landfill, known as the Brady Road landfill.

The bodies of the other three victims have not been recovered, and police do not know the whereabouts of the remains of Buffalo Woman. But investigators believe the remains of Ms. Harris and Ms. Myran were taken by truck to a different landfill north of the city, known as the Prairie Green landfill. But they say a search of that landfill would not be feasible.

“How can you even fathom the idea to leave them there?” Ms. Harris’s daughter Kera asked at a press conference with relatives on Parliament Hill on Tuesday. “If you want to respect and honour them, stop making excuses as to why you can’t find them. You can – you’re just refusing to.”

Kera Harris’s sister, Cambria, called the decision “disgusting.”

“I should not have to stand here today … and beg and beg so that you will find and bring our loved ones home,” she said. “My mother didn’t pass away with a home. So let’s pay her the respect she deserves, by finally giving her one that’s not a resting place at the Prairie Green landfill.”

Police held their own press conference Tuesday afternoon to explain their decision. Inspector Cam MacKid of the Forensics, Intelligence and Technology Division said it came down to both health and safety and logistical factors.

When they searched the Brady landfill in May, the inspector said, it had only been a matter of hours since the load containing the remains had been dropped off at the roughly four-acre site. In that window, 100 dump trucks had dropped off loads, but the debris was still above ground and had not yet been compacted and buried.

By contrast, when the homicide unit alerted forensics on June 20 that they believed the remains of Ms. Harris and Ms. Myran had been taken to the Prairie Green landfill on May 16, 34 days had passed. By this point, 10,000 truckloads had been dumped at the similarly sized site, and that debris was now packed under 9,000 tonnes of construction mud, with 1,500 tonnes of animal remains strewn through the site.

Insp. MacKid said 250 tonnes of asbestos were among that debris they would be searching through, which also posed health and safety concerns for officers.

There were also technological hurdles: The truck that went to the Brady landfill had GPS, which also allowed them to narrow their search area. The truck that went to Prairie Green did not.

“We made the very difficult decision as a service, that this wasn’t operationally feasible to conduct a search of this site,” Insp. MacKid said.

“It’s tough when we’re being criticized for almost a lack of caring, when I don’t think that’s the case. Our members are working extremely hard in this case. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families, and we’re working as hard as we can to to ensure that the resolution here is what it should be.”

Leah Gazan, the NDP critic for women and gender equality, joined the Harris family on Parliament Hill Tuesday. She said she understands that the search may not be feasible, but “at the very least, the city needs to immediately stop using that landfill for garbage so that the remains of loved ones can rest in peace.”

For Sue Caribou, news of the killings and renewed calls to search the landfills propels her back to 2012, when police were searching the Brady landfill for the body of her missing niece, Tanya Nepinak. The 31-year-old was never found, and the murder charge against Shawn Lamb – who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the deaths of two other women, Carolyn Sinclair and Lorna Blacksmith – was stayed.

Ms. Caribou felt then that police did not do an adequate search of the landfill. She felt like they gave up – and that they are giving up once again, leaving more families without justice or closure.

“They shouldn’t be giving up on our loved ones,” she said. “What if it was their loved one?”

The question was put to Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth at the press conference Tuesday. He acknowledged the pain that the victims’ families are feeling.

“I would be heartbroken, and I would be angry,” he said.