Winnipeg mayor open to possibility of searching landfill for remains of homicide victims
Police chief has said no to search, but Gillingham says 'there's a lot left to discuss on this matter'
Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham says the door is not closed on a possible police search of a landfill north of the city for the remains of two women police allege were both killed by the same man.
"Nothing is closed to me. I'm open to whatever may be possible in the future," Gillingham said on Wednesday.
Jeremy Skibicki, 35, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of four women: Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, Rebecca Contois, and an unidentified woman whom community members have named Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe (Buffalo Woman).
Only Contois's remains have been recovered, including partial remains that were found last June in the Brady Road landfill, south of Winnipeg.
Police believe Harris's and Myran's remains were taken to the privately owned Prairie Green Landfill in the rural municipality of Rosser, but have said they do not plan to search the site.
On Tuesday, Harris's daughters, Cambria and Kera Harris, made an emotional plea outside the House of Commons in Ottawa for police to begin a search for their mother, who went missing in May.
At a news conference later Tuesday, police said such a search wouldn't be feasible due to a number of factors, including the fact they became aware the remains were dumped at Prairie Green more than a month after it's believed that happened.
During that time, about 10,000 loads of waste and 1,500 tonnes of animal remains were deposited at the landfill, police said.
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But Gillingham said he's having many conversations and meetings with Indigenous leaders and other levels of government.
"There's a lot left to discuss on this matter," he said.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee echoed the calls for the federal government to step in.
"It is obvious in Manitoba that they're not committed to giving any resources to help these families," Settee said.
At a gathering of Assembly of First Nations chiefs in Ottawa on Wednesday, Mohawk leader Kimberly Murray said the refusal by police to search for the remains is a "breach of human dignity."
Murray, a former executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, was appointed by the federal government to serve as a special interlocutor to help communities search for the remains of children who were forced to attend residential schools.
She says one of her office's guiding principles is that families and communities have a right to know what happened to these children, how they died and where they are buried.
"Those families have a right to know," she said.
The office of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, who was set to address the AFN chiefs' assembly late Wednesday, confirmed it had not received any requests for help searching the landfill.
Mayor Gillingham said he would be paying close attention to a Wednesday night emergency debate in Ottawa on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
He said he is also open to accepting federal funding to support a search.
"If that becomes available, then that's a discussion to have."
Community worried about safety
During a Wednesday night vigil for the four women at the Elmwood Community Resource Centre in Winnipeg, some Indigenous people expressed their worries about safety in their neighbourhood, which is in close proximity to North Kildonan, where the alleged serial killer lived.
"Everyone in the community [is] feeling … this tragedy," said Charlene Gladu, the elder who led the vigil. "We need to support one another, you know — show the families that we love them and we care for them."
The vigil started with a prayer, followed by the lighting of a sacred fire and the performance of an honour song. Members of the community were invited to speak about how the news of the deaths was impacting them.
"We want to make Elmwood a great place to live, work and raise a family," said Charlene Connors, the counselling manager at Elmwood Community Resource Centre.
With files from Cameron MacLean and The Canadian Press