Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham offered support for a landfill search for human remains, some Indigenous leaders said after a one-hour meeting with him Thursday, adding the Manitoba government remains an obstacle.
“I’m really happy that the mayor’s office is trying to figure out ways that they can support the search,” Chief Kyra Wilson, of Long Plain First Nation, said.
“And we don’t know what that is yet, but we do know that they are coming to some sort of options, ideas, suggestions.”
Gillingham’s director of communications, Colin Fast, later told CBC News the mayor is “committed” to looking into the group’s request for the city to help find land for a facility if a search was to occur.
Pressure has been building for a search of the privately owned Prairie Green landfill, north of Winnipeg, for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran, whose remains are believed to have been dumped there last year.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in those deaths and the deaths of two other Indigenous women — Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found last year at the city-owned Brady Road landfill, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders are calling Buffalo Woman, whose remains have not been found.
The Manitoba government has said it will not support a search because it would expose searchers to asbestos and toxic chemicals with no guarantee of success.
Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen reiterated that concern Thursday, and said he understands the families’ call for a search.
“If it were my son, I would advocate for my son. The provincial government has to consider all families. It has to consider what the risk is for the families and for those who might be doing a search on an industrial landfill site,” Goertzen said.
Goertzen also reiterated a concern that a lengthy search could delay or interfere with the trial of the man accused of the killings.
A federally funded study found a search of the landfill is feasible, but many measures would be needed to reduce the risk to workers. It also said a search could take three years, cost up to $184 million and offer no guarantee the remains would be found.
The federal government has not ruled out leading a search but said landfills are a provincial responsibility and provincial approval would likely be needed.
“We will continue engaging the province into our conversations, and we look forward to having them at the table,” read a prepared statement Thursday from the office of Marc Miller, federal minister for Crown-Indigenous relations.
Cambria Harris, daughter of Morgan Harris, said the three levels of government have to work out a solution.
“In my culture, we believe that if you don’t get that proper burial with ceremony, then you are stuck between this world and the spirit world,” Harris said.
“I would hate to be looking down at my body in a landfill, knowing that all levels of government wouldn’t step in to search for me.”
Harris and supporters set up a blockade of the Brady Road landfill earlier this month when the province announced it would not support a search. The blockade was removed Tuesday, four days after the city obtained a court injunction.
Protesters are maintaining two camps to continue to press their demands: one near the Brady Road landfill and another outside the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in downtown Winnipeg.
Harris, who was also part of the meeting with Gillingham, said the group discussed options such as having the city provide land near the Prairie Green landfill for machinery and buildings needed for a search.
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