The Manitoba government says searching the Prairie Green landfill for the remains of two indigenous women is not worth risking the health and safety of Manitoba workers, as there is no guarantee the search will be successful.
Indigenous leaders and the families of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran called for a search of the dump, just north of Winnipeg, where police said they believe the remains of the two women were dumped. Police allege they were among four women killed by the same man.
However, the province said Wednesday that it would not support such a search, according to a feasibility study released earlier this year on a possible search of the landfill.
“We understand the desire to leave no stone unturned,” said a statement attributed to Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson and Minister for Indian Reconciliation and Northern Relations Elieen Clarke.
“However, the search process described in the report is complex and carries long-term human health and safety issues that simply cannot be ignored.”
Some of the key findings of the report, prepared by a committee formed to study whether a landfill search would be feasible, were published in May and the full 55-page report was later leaked online.
He outlined a plan to hire more than 40 employees, including managers, elders and knowledge keepers, a forensic anthropologist and up to 28 technicians to conduct the search for Harris and Myran.
He also outlined health and safety concerns, recommending on-site hazmat teams to monitor air quality, act as safety officers, and perform decontamination for personnel working closely with evacuated materials.
The report said a search could cost up to $184 million and take up to three years.
However, it concluded that a search of the Prairie Green landfill was feasible and that failure to conduct a search could cause considerable distress to families of victims and indigenous communities across the country.
But the province’s Wednesday statement said it “cannot knowingly risk the health and safety of Manitoba workers by an unreliable search” to find the women’s remains.
The statement cited the report, saying that “the emotional costs associated with conducting a search and not recovering remains must be considered, as should the emotional costs associated with possible delays and length of a search.”
Following the release of key details of the feasibility study, the Morgan Harris family said they hoped the federal, provincial and municipal governments would support the search.
The families of Harris and Myran have said finding their remains is vital to achieving closure.
Winnipeg police allege the two women were killed by Jeremy Skibicki, who was charged with first-degree murder for their deaths, as well as the deaths of Rebecca Contois and a fourth woman who has not been identified but who was has given the name. Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or buffalo woman.
While the province would not support a search of the landfill, it is prepared to support a memorial for Myran and Harris, according to the statement.
She also said the province has offered support to the families of the victims to help them with their healing process and continues to “address the many sources of violence against indigenous women and girls.”
The province said it is awaiting the federal government’s response to the study, which is currently being reviewed by Crown Minister for Indian Relations Marc Miller.