‘INDEFENSIBLE’: Amnesty International condemns Premier Stefanson's anti-landfill search stance

Amnesty International has joined a growing list of organizations calling on Premier Heather Stefanson to change course on her decision not to offer assistance to get the Prairie Green Landfill searched for the remains of two Indigenous women, and the human rights organization is calling the province’s current inaction on a search “indefensible” and “appalling.”

“Premier Stefanson’s refusal to search the landfills is indefensible and sends the appalling message that the lives of Indigenous women, girls, Two Spirit and gender-diverse people are not valued in Canada,” Ketty Nivyabandi, the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada (English) said in a statement sent out jointly on Thursday by Amnesty International Canada, and the Families of Sisters in Spirit.

In the statement Nivyabandi said Amnesty International “affirms solidarity” with the families of women who are believed to have been dumped in a Manitoba landfill by an alleged serial killer, and with those who have been calling for months for a search of the landfill for those women’s remains.

Public calls in recent months to search the Prairie Green Landfill have also come from The United Church of Canada, CUPE Local 500, the national Union of Taxation Employees, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Provincial Council of Women of Manitoba, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Treaty Commissioner of Saskatchewan, and several other organizations, officials and politicians across Canada.

Jeremy Skibicki was charged with first-degree murder in December in the deaths of four women, including Morgan Harris and Marcedes 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 the Brady Road Landfill, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders are calling Buffalo Woman, whose remains have not been found.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson announced on July 6 that the province would not offer assistance to search the Prairie Green Landfill, saying she came to the decision because of the results of a feasibility study that said there would be safety risks involved in that type of search, and no guarantee the search would be successful.

Amnesty International along with Families of Sisters in Spirit, a national grassroots organization made up of families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two Spirit people, said their Thursday statement was a “call to action” for both the province and the federal government to find a way to get a search done.

“No person deserves to be left in a landfill as a final resting place. Not one,” Families of Sisters in Spirit co-founder Bridget Tolley said.

Amnesty International Canada said they will also participate in a Sept. 18 ‘sit-in’ on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to demand action on a landfill search, one of several demonstrations expected to take place on Sept. 18 across Canada and internationally for what is now being referred to by advocates as International Day of Action to Search the Landfills.

In a statement sent to the Winnipeg Sun on July 20, a spokesperson for the premier’s office said the premier was firm on her decision and on the reasons behind it.

“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.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun