Government Commitments

Government Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation

‘We have to try’: Ottawa, Manitoba commit $40M to search landfill for slain women

March 22, 2024

The money is to go toward a search of the privately owned Prairie Green landfill north of Winnipeg, where the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are believed to be.

Families of slain women to meet with governments, provide update on landfill search
Supporters and family gather at a rally calling for a search of a landfill at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg on Monday, Sept.18, 2023. The families of two slain First Nations women are expected to provide an update in their push to get the federal and provincial governments to fund a search for the women’s remains.THE CANADIAN PRESS/John WoodsJGW

By Brittany Hobson and Steve Lambert The Canadian Press

Toronto Star – The Canadian Press – WINNIPEG – Families of two slain First Nations women received word Friday that the federal and Manitoba governments are putting up $20 million each to help search a landfill for the women’s remains.

“I’m very grateful for these commitments going forward … and I pray that one day we will see justice,” said Cambria Harris, whose mother Morgan Harris is one of four women allegedly killed by the same man.

The total $40 million is to go toward a search of the privately owned Prairie Green landfill north of Winnipeg, where the remains of Harris and Marcedes Myran are believed to have been taken almost two years ago.

Police in 2022 rejected the idea of a search, in part because of the potential danger from toxic substances and the sheer volume of material at the landfill.

The families of Harris and Myran took their fight for a search to Parliament Hill and the steps of Manitoba’s legislature.

Manitoba’s former Progressive Conservative government agreed a search would be too risky. The Tories also took out advertisements during October’s provincial election campaign touting their decision to “stand firm” against calls for a search.

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew, who led the New Democrats to victory in the election and promised a search of the landfill, previously said he was confident a search could start this year. He has since stepped back from providing a timeline.

“We’re glad to be able to move forward with the funds necessary to search every cubic metre of the relevant space,” Kinew said in a statement Friday.

“While we don’t know if the search will be successful, we have to try.”

The federal government remains “committed as we work with all partners towards an approach that will bring closure and healing for the families and community members,” the office of Gary Anandasangaree, federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, said in an email.

Harris said the funding commitments are a step forward.

“It’s about showing our Indigenous women, our Indigenous people, that we’re worth it, we’re valued, we’re loved and we’re more than worth searching for,” she said.

The leader of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs called the announcement a “bittersweet” moment, as the organization and families spent months producing two reports outlining how a search can be conducted safely.

“I hope and pray it doesn’t take long to find our loved ones,” said Grand Chief Cathy Merrick.

The area of the landfill believed to contain the women’s remains has not been in use since police advised the owners of the homicide investigation.

The first report on the feasibility of a search estimated it would cost between $84 million and $184 million and take up to three years.

The second, more comprehensive report said it could be $90 million if completed within a year. It also said a search could pose a major health hazard because the landfill contains asbestos.

Asbestos can cause cancer if ingested, and the report said bags containing the substance could break during an excavation allowing it to become airborne. The report laid out precautions, including having full protective gear with respirators for workers and keeping the area wet to prevent asbestos from getting into the air.

Merrick said she doesn’t know what a search will look like but hopes the governments will fund whatever efforts may be needed.

“We don’t want to go back and back again to ask that this work be complete,” she said.

Jeremy Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, Myran and two other women: Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found in a different landfill, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders have named Buffalo Woman, whose remains have not been found.

His six-week trial is scheduled to start in April.

In addition to the search funding, the Manitoba and federal governments have offered money for mental health supports for the families during the trial and the landfill search.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2024.