August 8th, 2023
Every Attempt to Find MMIWG Must be Done
Late in 2022, a Winnipeg man was charged with four counts of first-degree murder for the killings of Rebecca Contois, Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, and a fourth unidentified woman who is being referred to as Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, a name given to her by local Elders, and adopted by local police. The remains of three of these women have not been recovered. Contois’ partial remains were located in Winnipeg’s Prairie Green landfill.
In December of 2022, police indicated that they had reason to believe that the remains of two of the victims were in the Prairie Green landfill. Since then, protesters set up a camp outside the landfill site, dubbed Camp Morgan in honour of Ms. Harris, demanding action from both the Provincial and Federal governments to search the site for the remains of the three women.
About a month ago, the Manitoba government made the decision to not assist in funding a search of the Prairie Green landfill for the remains of the women. The Manitoba government has stated that the decision rested purely on safety concerns for those who would be sifting through the materials at the landfill. This decision was based on a feasibility study developed by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. The feasibility study states that a search of the landfill is feasible, but there are considerable risks due to toxic chemicals and asbestos.
Recently, as a result of a judge approving a court injunction, police have dismantled the Camp Morgan site. The protestors immediately erected a new site named Camp Marcedes at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to continue to draw attention to the plight of the victims and have stated that they would remain until the search of the landfill is done.
The Manitoba government’s assertion that they will not assist due to safety concerns has been widely condemned by a number of groups, including the Assembly of First Nations. CUPE, the union representing landfill workers, has stated that there’s no reason the search can’t be done if proper precautions are taken. Marion Buller, a former judge and the Chief Commissioner of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), has stated that the Federal government should do more to convince the Provincial government to conduct the search, and should this fail, the Federal government could reach an agreement with the landfill owner to conduct a search on their own. The Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations has seemingly been arguing with the Premier of Manitoba, rather than committing to use federal resources to assist in the search.
We should not be playing jurisdictional games when it comes to upholding our human rights obligations. Last May, MPs from all parties unanimously recognized the ongoing violence against Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people as a Canada-wide emergency. Families should not have to plead to have the remains of their family members returned to them. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Calls for Justice asks that all levels of government eliminate any jurisdictional gaps that deny services to Indigenous women. At this point, only two of the 231 Calls for Justice have been fully implemented, and this is of little comfort to family members who have lost sisters, daughters or mothers.
Those family members are quite tired of excuses, and simply want the work done to bring their loved ones home. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ feasibility study lays out how a search can be conducted, and while it may be expensive, this should not be a barrier to basic human rights. To put this in perspective, the B.C. government spent over $100 million to put notorious serial killer Robert Pickton away, with a significant amount of money dedicated to the investigation, including searching his farmhouse for small pieces of DNA evidence that led to his eventual conviction. The landfill, as well as potential remains, may contain important evidence, so aside from the human rights failure, it would be a failure in criminal justice if a search for the bodies of these women isn’t initiated.