WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.
A search through as many as 60,000 tons of material for the remains of two First Nations women at a landfill near Winnipeg could involve moving thousands of truckloads of trash, hiring dozens of staff to sift it on a conveyor belt and setting a temperature . -controlled storage unit to secure any remains found, a leaked report says.
The 55-page report was posted online by a relative of Morgan Harris — one of two women whose remains police say are in the Prairie Green landfill — more than a month after the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs held a press conference. share the outlines of the document.
The report was prepared by a committee that investigated whether it would be feasible to search for the remains of the women.
It outlines a plan to hire more than 40 staff, including managers, elders and knowledge custodians, a forensic anthropologist and as many as 28 technicians to conduct the search for Harris and Marcedes Myran, who police said were among the four at the end of last year. victims belonged. of an alleged serial killer.
Myran’s grandmother, Donna Bartlett, said she was never given a reason why the report couldn’t be released in the first place. And more than a month after the findings were shared with the public, she said she was hurt and angry that action had still not been taken.
“Nothing happens — nothing,” Bartlett said. “Nobody gave me an update.”
Jeremy Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, 39, Myran, 26, Rebecca Contois, 24, and a fourth unidentified woman, whom community members have named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe. or buffalo woman.
The partial remains of Contois were found last year at the Brady Road landfill in Winnipeg. The remains of Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe have not been found.
Skibicki’s trial will begin in April 2024.
Thousands of truckloads
In its update last month, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said the feasibility study committee had decided that using a conveyor belt to look through debris would be the best option for the search.
The full report sheds more light on the details of that plan, including that the conveyor would be housed in a roughly 23,000-square-foot structure built on the landfill site, allowing efforts to continue in any weather.
Search engineers would work in groups of about 10 to search the material as it goes along, the report said.
The specific portion of the landfill that would be searched contains 61,200 tons of material, which translates to anywhere from 2,880 to 7,200 loads, depending on the type of truck used.
While it’s possible that not all of that material will eventually need to be searched, “it’s best to plan to search everything,” the report says. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said earlier this year that no waste has been dumped in that part of the landfill since June 2022.
The search setup also included a screening system to separate different materials, as well as multiple trailers, including one that would act as a temperature-controlled storage unit to hold any remains found.
The structures would need access to electricity, water and high-bandwidth internet, the report said.
Search technicians and on-site personnel would all be trained in the use of personal protective equipment, how to decontaminate when leaving the search facility and what to do in an emergency.
The average daily compensation of the staff would range from $760 for administrative support, to $1,200 for a forensic anthropologist, to $1,800 for positions such as logistics, elders, and search technicians, to as much as $2,400 for certain managers and $3,600 for the project director , the report said.
Months of preparations
Preparations for the search would take about six months: about a month of training and setting up the transport system; two months of finding management and applying for various authorizations and approvals; and three months to build, install and hire, says a possible timeline in the report.
The search itself is expected to last up to three yearsbased on estimates that crews will sift through as many as 97.5 tons of materials each day.
But it is still unclear whether governments will provide financial support to make this happen.
A spokesman for Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said his office was reviewing both the feasibility study for a possible search of the Prairie Green landfill and a separate proposal to search Winnipeg’s Brady Road landfill for remains. has been revised.
Miller has been in touch with the women’s families and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the spokesman said in an email, and his office “will provide further comment as appropriate after our review.”
A Manitoba government spokesman said the province has also been in contact with the families and leadership, “and will be able to provide an update shortly.” Neither spokesperson declined to comment on the leak of the report.
Bartlett said that now that the feasibility study has been completed, she feels that different levels of government continue to push each other off rather than move forward with a possible search.
“We jumped through their hoops. Now they have to do what they said they’re going to do,” she said.
“It tires (me) and makes me angry that we have to meet over and over and say the same thing and nothing ever gets done anyway.”
DNA analysis probably needed for ‘unique’ situation
The report notes that the estimated cost for the search — which could be anywhere from $80 million to $180 million, according to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs — does not take into account potential costs associated with microscopy and DNA sampling and testing.
“It is difficult to predict how many samples will need to be processed in such a way,” says the report, which recommends budgeting about $2.5 million to potentially process up to 1,000 bone samples to determine whether they are human or animal .
The report also notes that while forensic anthropologists are trained to help identify remains by determining their age, gender, ancestry and stature, the similarities between the two women they’re looking for can make that task difficult.
“This situation is unique, where we know that a search could recover the remains of both Marcedes and Morgan. Marcedes and Morgan are very similar in that they are both First Nation women between the ages of 25 and 45 and about five feet tall long.” it says.
“Based on skeletal features, it probably wouldn’t be possible to distinguish each recovered bone from Morgan or Marcedes, as they are quite similar. It may be possible to distinguish them based on age, but that would require specific bones to be recovered. “
That means it’s possible that any remains found in a search will require DNA analysis, which could take a significant amount of time, as each sample could take months to process, the report said.
The report recommends that any costs associated with DNA analysis of human remains be borne by the Winnipeg Police Department. Police did not respond to a request for comment on that recommendation.
It also lists the various states in which the woman’s remains could be found, and outlines the challenges associated with each of those possibilities.
The report also provides more information about the 1,500 tons of animal remains which police previously said was deposited after the cargo believed to contain the woman’s remains — information the report said raised concerns about how difficult it could be to identify human remains.
Those 1,500 tons are rendered pork scraps from a processing plant and “are more consistent with thick sludge,” the report said. While that substance would pose a potential biohazard hazard, it would not add to the volume of bones that would need to be assessed.
Cadaver dogs, baggage scanners considered
While the subcommittee examined the use of cadaver dogs for the search, that option was deemed too dangerous as the dogs cannot wear respirators like humans.
It would also be too slow, because the animals would have to be rotated so often that using only dogs to search “would almost exhaust the entire group of North American cadaver search teams,” the report said.
That option should only be used in addition to the conveyor belt method, if used at all, it says.
It also points to the possibility of using other technology, such as the baggage scanners seen in airports, to increase the search by scanning all bags found in the landfill rather than opening them.
“While it is possible to identify bone in such a system, it is possible that this could drastically increase the time it takes to process the material,” the report said.
For Bartlett’s family, waiting so long for answers about whether her granddaughter’s remains will be searched for is taking a toll.
“Sure, we had a funeral. But she wasn’t there,’ she said. “I need her home. We have to put an end to this. We need closure.’
Support is available to anyone involved in the details of this case. If you need support, you can contact Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Medicine Bear Counseling, Support and Elder Services at 204-594-6500, extension. 102 or 104 (within Winnipeg), or 1-888-953-5264 (outside Winnipeg).
Support is also available through Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison Unit at 1-800-442-0488 or 204-677-1648.
People outside Manitoba can call 1-844-413-6649, an independent, national, toll-free helpline that offers emotional support.