By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — A court hearing on an injunction to end a blockade at a Winnipeg landfill has been adjourned until Friday after the lawyer representing some of the demonstrators argued his clients have a right to protest against systemic and ongoing violence toward Indigenous women.
“This is not a protest for nothing,” Sacha Paul said.
“This is a protest because of the fact that there is ongoing violence to Indigenous women and Indigenous girls in Canada, particularly in Manitoba.”
Dozens of protesters have blocked the main road to the Brady Road landfill demanding a search of a different landfill north of the city, called Prairie Green, where it’s believed the remains of two slain Indigenous women were dumped last year.
The City of Winnipeg filed an application Tuesday to the Court of King’s Bench seeking the removal of protesters, citing safety, environmental and financial concerns.
“We are here to ask this court to adjourn this application so the court can have the full story and not just half of the story,” said Paul, who is representing Cambria Harris, the daughter of one of the women believed to be in the Prairie Green landfill, as well as others involved in the blockade.
Paul told court there is no urgency for a decision because an alternate road to the landfill has been opened. The city has said in documents filed to court that the alternate road is not meant to handle a large volume of heavy trucks.
The city’s application to court argued there are significant environmental and health and safety risks if the blockade continues.
The blockade began last week after Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said the province would not support a search of the other landfill, pointing to a study that said it could cost $184 million, pose safety risks and not have guaranteed success.
Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller called Manitoba’s move “heartless” and said it made arriving at a decision on the search this summer “logistically impossible.”
Miller continued to condemn the premier’s stance Thursday while speaking to families of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Manitoba. He said the province is shirking its financial and jurisdictional responsibilities.
“I think the frustration from our end is that our officials don’t know how to engage right now because apparently the door is closed on a search and even provincial officials don’t know what the message is that the premier has given them,” Miller said over a video call addressing the families.
Meanwhile, Manitoba chiefs brought an emergency resolution to the Assembly of First First Nations general meeting in Halifax calling for the federal government to fund the search.
Grand Chief Cathy Merrick, of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said Thursday that the group wants to see a commitment to fund the search by the end of July.
“Because the feasibility study was commissioned through the federal government, they should at least take that responsibility to ensure that it’s carried out despite … not having the province at the table at this point in time,” she said.
Somebody has to pick up the reins and ensure the work is done, otherwise it sends that message that it’s acceptable in Canada “to find Aboriginal women in the landfills,” Merrick said.
Miller said later Thursday that the federal government does not yet have a concrete plan for what it plans to do next about calls to search the landfill, but said “our commitment is firm.”
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of four women.
The remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are believed to be at the private Prairie Green landfill.
He has also been charged in the death of Rebecca Contois, whose remains were found last year at Brady Road, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders are calling Buffalo Woman, whose remains have not been found.
The debate over a possible search has brought heightened tensions to Manitoba’s capital, forcing police to caution that violence will not be tolerated.
Police were called Wednesday after around 50 people went to the home of a man who allegedly dumped soil on a mural at the landfill protest. Online videos show people yelling in a megaphone and using orange paint to put handprints on the home’s fence, sidewalk and front door.
Police say while a 19-year-old was arrested for allegedly throwing a rock through the home’s window, the crowd eventually left and the person in the home wasn’t harmed.
— With files from Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon and Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa