By Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The leader of Manitoba’s Opposition NDP is promising to move forward on a search of a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of two First Nations women if the party forms government after the provincial election in the fall.
Wab Kinew said his government would “100 per cent” support a search of the privately run Prairie Green Landfill for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran, but he stopped short of offering funding commitments.
“Searching the landfill is an important step towards delivering justice in Manitoba,” Kinew said Wednesday after responding to journalists questions at an unrelated press conference outlining some of the NDP’s economic priorities ahead of the election on Oct. 3.
“We’d work with the feds, we’d work with the families … and we would go try.”
The governing Progressive Conservatives announced last month they would not support a search of the landfill because it could expose workers to toxic material and interfere with the judicial proceedings against the man accused of killing the women. Last week, the government said it had not changed its position.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, Myran and two others — Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found in a different landfill last year, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders are calling Mashkoda Bizhiki’ikwe or Buffalo Woman. Her remains have not been found.
A federally funded feasibility study said a search of the landfill is possible, but many measures would be needed to reduce the risk to workers. A search could also cost as much as $184 million and take up to three years to complete.
Experts consulted for the study have said risks could be mitigated and a search could be done safely.
Kinew said he has spoken with some of the women’s family members about alternative search methods and they were open to further conversations.
“If there’s other approaches that are being contemplated, if we’re talking about the scale of the thing and ensuring that it’s going to be pursued in a safe and responsible fashion, they’re willing to have those conversations so long as we go looking for their loved one.”
A cousin of Harris expressed her support for an NDP government at a rally and march last week.
Melissa Robinson told a crowd of more than 100 that it was time to “shake” things up and that a search was going to happen without the help of Premier Heather Stefanson and her government.
“We need a real leader like Wab Kinew who stands for Indigenous people … let’s bring our women home,” Robinson said at the rally.
The federal government has expressed its support in searching the landfill. But Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree has said until there is co-operation with provincial partners, conversations around timelines and funding remain unresolved. The federal government has not said how much money it would put forward to fund a search.
Families and Indigenous leaders met with Anandasangaree last week in Winnipeg and said the conversations were positive.
Kinew said he has had some preliminary discussions with federal leaders on the matter.
“It’s tough as someone in my position right now, because I can’t make any commitments until we see what happens on Oct. 3. What I can say without, I think, betraying any confidence with people at the federal level is that we would be able to work together.”
Kinew added that if the NDP is elected, he hopes a search would start soon after the party forms government. “Time is of the essence.”
The Manitoba Liberal Party has also committed to going ahead with a search if voters put it in power.
The party released last week the first part of its community safety and justice platform, which includes a promise to fund a search on a 50/50 basis with the federal government.
“As Manitobans, we should all be united in our shared grief with the families whose loved ones are still missing. For Liberals this is not a political issue, it is a moral principle. We need to stand with the victims of crime,” the Liberals said in a release.
“The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs have presented consistent facts and evidence that the search can be done safely, legally and can succeed.”
Long Plain Chief Kyra Wilson told supporters at the Aug. 3 rally that if the current government doesn’t want to support the families in a search then Manitobans need to “vote in a new government.”Harris and Myran were member of the First Nation.
“As Anishinaabe this is not our (governance) system. I recognize that, but this is what we have to deal with right now. Until things change, this is what we have to deal with.”
Wilson urged first time voters to head to the polls in October.