Not searching Manitoba landfill for human remains might embolden killers, feasibility study shows

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Winnipeg Sun

A study looking at the feasibility of searching a Manitoba landfill for human remains shows there would be risks involved in that type of search, but that there would also be risks if no search is done, including the possibility that others who murder might believe a landfill or dumpster is a good place to dispose of a body.

“Concerns have been expressed that not conducting a search for the remains of Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris could send a message that disposing of victims in dumpsters is a good method for perpetrators, and one that comes with impunity,” reads one section of the Landfill Search Feasibility Study Committee Final Report, a study that looked at the feasibility of searching the Prairie Green Landfill north of Winnipeg for the remains of Myran and Harris, two Indigenous women believed to have been murdered by an alleged serial killer.

“This could possibly then set a precedent that could encourage perpetrators to use dumpsters/landfill sites as a means of disposing of the remains of their victims,” the study reads.

“Although a full examination of this issue falls outside the parameters of this study, it has been included for the consideration of decision-makers and stakeholders.”

Jeremy Skibicki was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of four women back in December, including Harris and Myran, whose remains are both believed to be at the privately-run Prairie Green Landfill north of Winnipeg.

He has also been charged in the death of Rebecca Contois, whose remains were found last year at Brady Road Landfill, and an unidentified woman that Indigenous leaders are calling Buffalo Woman, whose remains have not been found.

As calls from family members and activists grew over recent months for Prairie Green to be searched, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson announced on July 6 the province would not offer assistance to search the landfill, citing safety concerns and no guarantees of a successful search.

The recently-completed feasibility study said that a search for Harris and Myran was feasible, but could cost as much as $184 million, and pose health and safety threats to workers, and that there was no guarantee that it would be successful.

The study does cite several dangers that would come along with a search of the landfill, including possible exposure to high amounts of asbestos in the search area, as well as possible exposure to hydrogen sulfide, methane and other biological hazards.

The report also says there are risks of physical injuries in the search area, and possible mental health risks for searchers looking for human remains.

But a section of the report also weighs the risks of not conducting a search, and shows that there are concerns that no search could embolden others to consider dumping remains in a landfill or dumpster.

The study also says if no search is conducted it could have long-term and negative effects on Indigenous women and girls in Manitoba.

“It relights a fear in women all over this city who live in lower-income neighbourhoods and cannot avoid the streets or walking alone some nights. It brings fear to women who sometimes have no choice but to trust a stranger in their desperate time of need,” the study reads.

There are also concerns that not conducting a search could cause serious and long-term harm to reconciliation efforts in the province and across the entire country, because of the message a lack of action might send to Indigenous people.

“The impact could have long lasting repercussions on the families, friends, loved ones, and First Nation and Indigenous communities in Manitoba and across Canada,” the study says.

A spokesperson for the premier’s office told the Winnipeg Sun last Thursday that the premier stands by her decision because of possible health and safety concerns cited in the feasibility report.

“Our hearts go out to the families, who are dealing with unimaginable grief, but leadership requires difficult decisions. There is no guarantee of finding remains and immediate and long-term health and safety risks are real and cannot be ignored,” the spokesperson said in an email.