Manitoba NDP says stricter rules for landfills needed to prevent human remains from being lost

Tighter rules and more thorough record keeping could help prevent cases where human remains are lost in landfills and homicide victims' families are left dealing with an added layer of grief, Manitoba's Opposition NDP said Wednesday.

Manager of landfill where police believe remains were dumped says locating anything 'extremely challenging'

A dump truck is seen behind a chain-link fence on the property of a landfill.
A dump truck deposits trash at the Prairie Green Landfill north of Winnipeg. Police believe the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are located at the dump, but say it's much too dangerous and complicated to search for them. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Tighter rules and more thorough record keeping could help prevent cases where human remains are lost in landfills and murder victims' families are left dealing with an added layer of grief, Manitoba's Opposition NDP said Wednesday.

"At the end of the day, we have to give the ... information to police that helps them do their job and that gets justice for families," Nahanni Fontaine, NDP justice critic, said in an interview. Fontaine is the caucus spokesperson for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.

Fontaine's comments came a day after Winnipeg police laid out reasons why they have decided against a search of the Prairie Green landfill, where two Indigenous women — Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran — were believed to have been taken by an alleged serial killer.

The remains were believed to have been taken to the privately owned landfill in the rural municipality of Rosser last spring. Many apartment and condominium buildings in Winnipeg use private contractors to collect waste.

When police learned of the possibility several weeks later, the site had already seen an additional 10,000 truckloads of refuse dumped along with about 1,500 tonnes of animal remains.

The trucks involved did not have GPS units on board to track their location or video cameras, police said, and the landfill has compacted its waste with tons of heavy mud and clay.

Fontaine said requiring GPS tracking and video cameras could help pinpoint an area to start searching. She would also like to see very thorough record-keeping required to track what is deposited of.

"There are Manitoba families that are in incredible turmoil right now and suffering in unimaginable ways," she said.

A garbage truck drives down a snowy road.
Garbage trucks that come to Prairie Green Landfill are not equipped with GPS. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Fontaine pointed to the search for Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found in the city-run Brady landfill in the city's south end in June. The garbage trucks used by the city have GPS tracking and video cameras.

Material at that landfill is also not compacted. As a result, police had a starting point for that search and an easier time sifting through material. Less time had elapsed in that case as well.

Contois, Harris, Myran and an unidentified woman police and community leaders have named Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, were killed within several weeks of each other in the spring, allegedly at the hands of Jeremy Skibicki.

Skibicki has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder. He has yet to enter a plea, but his lawyer said last week Skibicki maintains his innocence.

The district manager of the company that owns the Prairie Green landfill said the company is co-operating fully with police and extending condolences to the families of the women.

"The disappearance of these young women is an unspeakable tragedy and all of us are extremely upset by it," said Barry Blue of Waste Connections of Canada.

The company does not know all of the details of the police investigation as it's ongoing, Blue added.

"We're not able to really comment on the ability to locate or retrieve the victims at this time," he said.

"I can tell you that the landfill is a dynamic, dangerous place with lots of moving pieces ... and so that makes locating anything extremely challenging."

Support is available for anyone affected by details of this case. If you require support, you can contact Ka Ni Kanichihk's Medicine Bear Counselling, Support and Elder Services at 204-594-6500, ext. 102 or 104, (within Winnipeg) or 1-888-953-5264 (outside Winnipeg).

Support is also available via Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison unit at 1-800-442-0488 or 204-677-1648.

With files from CBC