By Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press
Winnipeg’s chief of police says he has no plans to resign and supports exploring options to recover the remains of two Indigenous women who are believed to be in a landfill outside the city.
Chief Danny Smyth made the comments Friday in a statement to First Nations groups in Manitoba and the media.
Smyth said that he has performed his duties to the best of his ability and is committed to preventing the “victimization and exploitation of women.”
Police believe the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran ended up in the Prairie Green landfill in the spring. But they decided not to conduct a search as the chances of finding them are low due to the amount of time that has passed and the fact that 10,000 truckloads of refuse were dumped in the area in the following months.
Jeremy Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, Myran, Rebecca Contois and a fourth unidentified woman that Indigenous leaders have called Buffalo Woman.
Police have said they believe the four women were killed in the spring, although investigators have so far only located the remains of Contois in a garbage bin in Winnipeg and in a separate landfill.
Harris’s family and Indigenous leaders have called for the police chief’s resignation over the decision not to search the Prairie Green landfill.
“I have heard the calls from the families, the Indigenous leadership and the community. I understand your calls; the pain and sorrow is unimaginable,” Smyth wrote.
“I want justice for Rebecca, Marcedes, Morgan and Buffalo Woman. I will not be resigning.”
Smyth said the investigation into the deaths has been one of the most complex and important homicide investigations during his tenure.
“Difficult decisions were made to advance the investigation so that charges could be brought against Jeremy Skibicki. Evidence was painstakingly gathered and presented to the Crown prosecutor who authorized four first-degree murder charges.”
Smyth met with the Winnipeg Police Board and Mayor Scott Gillingham on Thursday evening to explore potential options for searching for the remains.
“I will work with whomever the mayor assigns to this important initiative,” he said.
Decisions on next steps in a potential search are being worked through with the option of bringing in outside help, the city’s police board said Friday.
Conversations are needed with waste management experts and forensic anthropologists to determine what outside resources would be required for a search,said city Coun. Markus Chambers, who is also chairman of the police board.
“(It was about) getting a position on how it can be done in order to provide something for these families that demonstrates that they matter,” Chambers said.
“We don’t want to be disingenuous in this. It is about trying to find some closure for these families.”
Chambers said he’s confident a search can take place but stopped short of committing to a timeline. He acknowledged the logistical and safety concerns outlined by police.
Trash at the landfill is compacted with mud at a depth of about 12 metres that would require heavy equipment to dig through, he said.
Anything collected would have to be inspected off-site. There is also the possibility that any remains found may belong to an animal or a different person, he added.
Indigenous family members of missing or murdered women have expressed concerns that their loved ones may be in landfills.
“I don’t want to speculate. I don’t want to say for certain, but there’s a potential that there could be other bodies there,” Chambers said. “So, DNA testing is going to be a component of it.”
Operations at the landfill have been halted as the city and the province discuss what to do.
Premier Heather Stefanson said she reached out to the landfill’s management Thursday to discuss stopping trash disposal. The operator told her it had already stopped.
“They were indicative that they were supportive of this,” Stefanson said Friday. “We are working very co-operatively with the owner and the operator of the landfill site.”
The Southern Chiefs’ Organization, which represents 34 First Nations in southern Manitoba, said the landfill should be declared a crime scene immediately.
“The Winnipeg police should be using all their resources to find these women,” Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said in a statement.
Chambers said he understands families are frustrated.
“It’s about working together and not pointing fingers. It’s not easy work and emotions do get high around homicides. I understand it,” he said. “But let’s focus on getting justice for the families.”