Canada: hopes rise for landfill search where Indigenous bodies believed to be buried

<span>Photograph: John Woods/AP</span>
Photograph: John Woods/AP

Operations have paused at a Canadian landfill where the bodies of at least two Indigenous victims of an alleged serial killer are believed to be buried, amid mounting frustration that authorities are not doing enough to recover the bodies.

Police in Winnipeg announced last week they had charged Jeremy Skibicki, 35, with the murder of Morgan Beatrice Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 26, of Long Plain First Nation, months after he was accused of killing Rebecca Contois, 24, from O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation.

He was also charged in the death of a fourth unidentified victim, to whom the local Indigenous community have given the name Buffalo Woman (Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe).

Related: ‘Rage, despair, disgust’: Canada reels from killings of Indigenous women

Earlier this week, police said they believed the remains of Harris and Myran were buried in the Prairie Green landfill, but ruled out a recovery of the bodies, saying that the size of the site and lack of resources made the task unfeasible.

On Thursday afternoon, the Manitoba premier, Heather Stefanson, and the Winnipeg mayor, Scott Gillingham, told reporters the landfill has temporarily stopped accepting garbage at the request of officials, raising the prospect that a search could be possible.

Stefanson said it was important to “take this pause, and we get this right”.

Police chief Danny Smyth said that while Contois’s body was recovered from another landfill, the scale of the Prairie Green Landfill would complicate any search efforts. He said that since the bodies were probably placed in the landfill in March, nearly 10,000 truckloads of garbage have been dumped, and that trash at the landfill is compacted with 12 metres of heavy mud. Smyth also said investigators have no clear starting point to search the sprawling facility.

But Indigenous leaders say police are not doing enough, and called on Smyth to resign.

“This search is feasible and similar efforts have succeeded in the past despite even more obstacles,” the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs grand chief, Kathy Merrick, said. “How do you look these young girls in the eyes and tell them you’re sorry, but you won’t even attempt to recover their mothers who fell victim to a serial killer?”

On Thursday, the chief of Long Plain First Nation, where Harris and Myran were from, also joined calls for the Smyth’s resignation

“The message you are sending to the greater community, to the non-Indigenous community is that Indigenous women don’t matter and that if someone wants to target or hurt our women they can dump them in the landfill and no one will look for them,” said Kyra Wilson. “Right now we have two young girls that have asked and begged for their mother to be found, to be brought home.”

Cambria and Kera, the daughters of Morgan Harris, have become outspoken critics of how police have handled the situation.

“You are telling us we don’t matter and you are still dropping trash on top of us like we don’t matter, and that’s disgusting,” Cambria told reporters.

Kera said the families wanted a “reasonable comprise” but had not yet received an acknowledgment from police.

“Not only have you refused to search these landfills, you have presented no alternative routes for how we can give these women peace.”