Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth provides an update to an ongoing homicide investigation in Winnipeg, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg police defend decision to not search landfill for women’s remains

Winnipeg police have released more details about their decision to not search a landfill for the remains of two Indigenous women believed to have been the victims of a serial killer as family of one of the women shared their disappointment at Parliament Hill.

Police say they believe the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran ended up in the Prairie Green landfill north of the city in the spring.

Cambria Harris said Tuesday in Ottawa that she shouldn’t have to beg for officials to search for her mother.

“My mother didn’t pass away with a home, so let’s pay her the respect that she deserves by finally giving her one that’s not a resting place at the Prairie Green landfill.”

Harris said officers sat down with her this week and shared a presentation outlining the reasons the search is unfeasible.

“It was basically to say we failed you and we’re not going to do anything, and I think that’s disgusting.”

Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Rebecca Contois, 24, Harris, 39, Myran, 26, and a fourth woman who has not been identified, but has been given the name Buffalo Woman or Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe by police and community leaders.

Skibicki was taken into custody and charged May 18 with first-degree murder in the death of Contois. Her partial remains were found in a garbage bin near an apartment building. Police later found the rest of her remains in the Brady Road landfill in the city’s south end.

He was charged last week with the other three killings, although police have not found their bodies. Police said they do not have a definitive location of the remains of Buffalo Woman.

Insp. Cam MacKid, head of the forensics unit, said Tuesday that the manageable conditions police worked with in locating the remains of Contois did not present themselves in the search for the other women.

He said compacting, the passage of time, topography and safety concerns prevent officers from searching the Prairie Green landfill.

“We have to look at the specific site and the issues it presents, and that’s what we did here,” MacKid said. “When we presented it we made the very difficult decision as a service that this wasn’t operationally feasible to conduct a search of this site.”

In the case of the Brady Road landfill, refuse is not compacted, police were able to secure the site within hours of finding Contois’ partial remains and they weren’t working against other remains and hazardous minerals. Police were also able to rely on GPS tracking in garbage trucks and heavy equipment at the landfill.

Homicide officers told the forensics team on June 20 that they believed additional remains had been disposed of at the Prairie Green landfill a month before, MacKid said.

Because of the time gap, police had no starting point to search the 1.6-hectare site, where trash is compacted with heavy mud at a depth of about 12 metres.

MacKid said during this time, 10,000 truckloads of refuse were dumped at the landfill and 1,500 tons of animal remains were deposited.

He added that given the compacting and the passage of time, any human remains might not be discernible from animal remains.

“If we were to search that site given the compaction that went on in the truck at the site, the decomposition that occurs over time, I guess the question to be asked — is it impossible? Nothing’s impossible,” he said.

“But is it likely that even if remains were found that they would be discernible from animal remains? That’s a tough question.”

Kera Harris said her family is prepared to search on their own for her mother, calling the police’s reasons “meaningless excuses.”

“These are people who you are leaving alone in the landfill. These are human beings. How can you even fathom the idea to leave them there?” she said in Ottawa.

“These women are deserving of a proper resting place not to be left alone in a landfill in the dead of winter. If you want to respect and honour them, stop making excuses as to why you can’t find them.”

Police Chief Danny Smyth said they did not want the searches to end this way for the families.

“We acknowledge that the families are heartbroken. We acknowledge that they’re angry. We acknowledge that a lot of people are angry. We’re doing our best to bring justice to the families, and that’s what we hope to do.”

Police continue to appeal to the public regarding Buffalo Woman’s identity and where her remains may be.

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