By Brittany Hobson
THE CANADIAN PRESS
WINNIPEG-The leader of a First Nations advocacy group wants to see the Winnipeg landfill where the remains of two Indigenous women were found permanently shut down.
“I think given the circumstance, that it should be. It’s not an isolated issue,” Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“I know there are lots of (Indigenous women) that have been missing throughout time, and I’m pretty sure that some of those women are in the Brady landfill.”
The Winnipeg homicide unit started an investigation after staff at the Brady Road landfill south of the city found the body of 33-year-old Linda Mary Beardy on Monday.
The cause and time of her death have not been released.
The landfill has been closed as police investigate. The city said contingency plans for garbage and recycling are in place.
Merrick said the city should look at opening a new landfill that would include measures to help with police investigations when situations like this occur.
“I know it’s not going to happen today, but that’s something that they need to look at as well.”
The assembly has called for the incorporation of new technologies at landfills, including screening and scanning of trucks with serial numbers, dates and times that coincide with the dumping of loads. It said landfills must also track routes and timelines.
“It’s shameful. We have to come out looking in landfills for our women,” Merrick said.
Garbage collection vehicles are equipped with GPS devices that allow for the tracking of specific loads and where materials are being deposited within the landfill, the city said. Staff are also trained to report any suspicious materials to the police.
It would not comment on calls to shut down the Brady landfill permanently.
City Coun. Markus Chambers said the discoveries point to the “upstream work” the city needs to do to support Indigenous communities.
“They’re ending up at landfills. They’re not happening at landfills,” Chambers said. “We’ve got to be able to prevent them or find a way to mitigate against these occurrences happening where they’re ending up in the landfill.”
Chambers added there needs to be more support for women and girls who come to the city from Indigenous communities, including educating people about the challenges of living in an urban setting.
Beardy was a mother and a member of Lake St. Martin First Nation but lived in Winnipeg at the time of her death. Merrick was told no one had heard from the young mother for about a week before her remains were found.
Police have said they do not believe her case is linked to the killing of Rebecca Contois, whose remains were found in the same landfill last year, or the killings of three other women.
Police have said they believe the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are in the privately run Prairie Green landfill north of Winnipeg, but their bodies have not been found.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Contois, Harris and Myran, all First Nations women, as well as an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders have named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman. Police have also not located her remains.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his condolences Wednesday to Beardy’s family and the larger Indigenous community. He said the federal government needs to do more to end the epidemic of violence that Indigenous women and girls face.
Trudeau said it’s heartbreaking that discoveries like these continue to happen.
“My heart goes out to the community in Winnipeg and to the families of the woman who was ? left in this way,” Trudeau said.
“We will continue to be there with the community as it grieves, but we will also continue to be there to put an end to this unconscionable violence.”
The prime minister added his Liberal government has made significant strides in countering gender-based violence, but there’s more it could be doing.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the discovery highlights the need to implement the 231 calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
“Women are dying, lives are being taken and we have to take it seriously,” Singh said.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller has praised workers at the Brady landfill for their “heightened vigilance” in finding Beardy’s remains.
Miller also said a study into the feasibility of searching the Prairie Green landfill for the remains of Harris and Myran should be completed in the coming weeks. The federal government put up $500,000 in February for the study.
An Indigenous-led committee headed by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said it is confident the study will “deem these search and recovery efforts feasible.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2023. With files from Steve Lambert in Winnipeg and Mickey Djuric in Ottawa