Hundreds rally to call for government action on long-promised landfill search

By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Winnipeg Sun

Hundreds filled the corner of Portage and Main Friday morning as cries of “search the landfill” rang out, and some sent a clear message to governments that the time to act on a landfill search is now, because they refuse to wait any longer.

“I’m done talking with our governments, they need to put their money where their mouth is and bring our women home,” Melissa Robinson said at a rally and round dance that temporarily halted traffic in downtown Winnipeg.

Robinson also hinted Friday that if the wait for a landfill search continues, some may have to take stronger actions in the coming weeks and months.

“So we might be shutting s— down next, stay tuned,” Robinson said.

Robinson is the cousin of Morgan Harris, one of two women believed to have been murdered and dumped at the privately-run Prairie Green Landfill north of Winnipeg, and families and advocates have been calling since December of 2022 for a search of the landfill for the remains of Harris and murder victim Marcedes Myran.

While speaking to the crowd that gathered at Friday’s rally, Robinson said the fight that she and others have been waging to get the landfill searched has at times been emotionally exhausting for many.

“It’s tiring, it’s draining, “Robinson said. “And it’s causing conflict amongst us, but also our supporters and our community, because we are tired of fighting for them to do the right thing.”

Jeremy Skibicki faces first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Harris and Myran, as well as in the death of Rebecca Contois, whose remains were found at the Brady Road Landfill in 2022, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders have called Buffalo Woman whose remains have not been found.

Winnipeg Police announced in 2022 they believed that Harris’ and Myran’s remains were in the Prairie Green Landfill, but said they had no plans to search for their remains, saying at the time a search was not “feasible”

Since then, both the federal government and Manitoba’s NDP government have made pledges to support a landfill search, and two separate reports have been submitted to the province and the feds, including a feasibility study released by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) last July that showed that a search for the women was feasible, but that there were no guarantees it would be successful and that it could cost as much as $180 million.

The report showed there were risks involved in that type of operation including possible exposure to high amounts of asbestos in the search area.

Robinson said she felt they were getting closer to having the search green-lit, after a second report was released in January of this year, with that report showing an estimate of about $90 million for the operation, but she said many now believe the province and the feds are continuing to stall.

Cambria Harris, the daughter of Morgan Harris, spoke at Friday’s rally, and called the ongoing wait for a landfill search “Canada’s national shame.”

“This is our national shame,” Cambria said. “Stop the bureaucracy and start recognizing us as basic human beings, that’s all we’re asking for. Is it that hard for you to understand that you’re playing political games and shoving your bureaucracy in our faces?

“This system continues to fail our people over and over again”

After the rally, advocates marched to the Manitoba Legislative Building, where they continued to rally on the steps of the Legislative building.

Elder Geraldine Shingoose was one of hundreds who took part in a round dance during a search the landfill rally and round dance held in downtown Winnipeg at the corner of Portage and Main on Friday, March 8, 2024. – Dave Baxter photo

On Friday afternoon, Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew spoke to the media, and said his government is still committed to getting a landfill search done, but said he could and would not give any specifics or timelines of when one could get underway, or how it might work.

He added there is a meeting planned between the province and families and AMC later this month.

“Our government is going to search the landfill, we’re going to put the families first and work with Indigenous leadership in order to do so,” Kinew said. “I’m not at the stage to share details with the media. I think it’s important to talk to family and Indigenous leadership first. We’re not sharing any details here today.”

Kinew also said he wanted to reassure families that the province will not waver on their commitment to get the landfill searched.

“We may not be able to provide a guarantee that this humanitarian mission is going to be successful, but as we’ve said all along, we’re going to try,” Kinew said.

In an email, a spokesperson for federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Gary Anandasangaree said “The Minister has met with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and impacted families and our government has previously provided resources for the development of a feasibility study and operational plan for a potential search.

“We have received the proposed operational plan to search the landfill and we will be there as a partner with the families, the community, the province, and other partners to move forward, in a trauma-informed and culturally sensitive manner.”