By Stephanie Taylor
THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA -Calls from the daughters of a slain Indigenous woman to bring her remains home from a landfill that police in Winnipeg won’t search turned into a rallying cry Wednesday to end the violence against their women and girls.
Cambria Harris, speaking before an Assembly of First Nations gathering in Ottawa, says her mother, Morgan, was a “bright and loving soul” who had her life stolen by a “monster.”
The 39-year-old mother and grandmother is one of four victims police believe were killed by 35-year-old Jeremy Skibicki, now facing first-degree murder charges.
Despite police saying they believe Harris’s remains and those of Marcedes Myran to be in a landfill outside the city, it says too much time has passed and garbage dumped at the site to make a search “feasible.”
Their response is “vile,” Harris said, who the day before spoke on Parliament Hill. Her sister, Kera Harris, added Wednesday if police won’t search the landfill, then it should close.
“They deserve to have a final resting place that isn’t a landfill. Why won’t you search for us?” Cambria Harris said.
Harris told chiefs she was the same age as Tina Fontaine was when she disappeared in Winnipeg back in 2014.
Fontaine’s death ignited calls for the federal government to launch an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, following the discovery that her small body, wrapped in a duvet and weighed down by rocks, had been dumped into a river.
“I protested when she was found because it hurt me personally as a young Indigenous girl,” Harris said.
“Why does this keep happening and why do we allow it happen?”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau granted the request for an inquiry when he took office in 2015. By 2019, it concluded that the years of violence against Indigenous women and girls amounted to a genocide, a term Trudeau at first didn’t use but has since adopted.
His government’s action plan and spending on initiatives to try to better protect Indigenous women has been criticized as falling short of the actions outlined in the report’s 231 calls to justice.
The killing of four more Indigenous women and police decision not to search a landfill for their remains shone a fresh light on the issue of violence against Indigenous women at the chiefs’ assembly and prompted widespread criticism of the service itself.
“We would ask every Canadian to consider how they would feel if it was their mother or daughter or sister or best friend whose body was lying at the bottom of a landfill. Would they not demand that she be found?” said Carol McBride, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, in a written statement Wednesday.
“We can’t help but wonder if the Winnipeg police would have continued to look for Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran if they had been white.”
McBride added that if police in Winnipeg don’t have the capacity to do this work, they should look to another investigative body.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said the decision not to search sends a “dark message.”
“Human beings deserve the effort, no matter how dismal or difficult the task may seem. It is unnerving that the (Winnipeg Police Service) is creating unmarked graves in these landfill sites,” Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said in a statement Wednesday.
Kimberly Murray, whom the government appointed to serve as a special interlocutor to help First Nations investigate unmarked graves, told the assembly on Tuesday the decision by police “is a breach of human dignity.”
“Those families have a right to know,” said Murray, a former executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
“International convention says they have a right to know.”
During question period Tuesday, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller told members of Parliament it is “very puzzling to hear the news that this landfill will not be searched,” saying he hoped to get clear answers from the city.
“Clearly the federal government needs to play a role in an area where jurisdiction is a poisonous word and continues to kill Indigenous women and children in this country.”
Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth also said he hadn’t spoken to anyone in the federal government about the matter.
The force’s head of forensics spoke to the media Tuesday to provide more details about the decision not to carry out a search.
Insp. Cam MacKid said police determined it wouldn’t be feasible given how much time has passed and how much has been dumped at the site, which is regularly compacted using heavy equipment.