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On May 18, 2022, alleged serial killer Jeremy Skibicki was charged with first-degree murder following the discovery of Rebecca Cointois’ remains in a garbage bin outside an apartment building. Contois was one of the 10 Indigenous women who were killed in Winnipeg in 2022. Indigenous women represent nearly 20% of all homicides in Winnipeg despite making up only 14% of the population. However, the extent of Skibicki’s horrific actions may be even larger than the brutal murder of Contois—he is now believed to be responsible for the deaths of three more Indigenous women: Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, and an unidentified woman who Indigenous community members refer to as Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe (Buffalo Woman). 

The remains of all three victims reside in Winnipeg’s Prairie Green Landfill, according to the Winnipeg police department. In an interview with CBC News, Morgan Harris’ daughter, Cambria Harris, also explained the cultural and emotional importance of recovering her mother’s remains: “We believe that if you don’t get a proper burial with ceremony, then you are stuck between this world and the spirit world. I would hate to be looking down at my body in a landfill, knowing that all levels of government wouldn’t step in to search for me.” 

The remains of all three victims reside in Prairie Green Landfill near Winnipeg, Manitoba (Mapcreator).

Yet, the Manitoba government and Winnipeg police department have refused to search for the victims and attempt to bring closure to the families. Citing the time elapsed, high costs and potential dangers to those who would search for the remains, Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth shut down any possibility of a search in December 2022. The Canadian federal government has also neglected to step in to assist in conducting a search for the three women.

The refusal has prompted outrage among the victim’s families and Indigenous community members. Protestors set up a blockade at Winnipeg’s Brady Landfill in July of 2023 to denounce the collective lack of action by governments and authorities, but a Winnipeg judge quickly granted an injunction to remove protestors from the road leading to the landfill.

An Inability to Search, or a Lack of Will?

After Winnipeg police stated they would not perform a search, the federal government appointed the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) to construct a 55-page feasibility report on searching Prairie Green Landfill for the three women’s remains. The search would involve sorting through nearly 60,000 tonnes of waste material and require approximately 40 staff members comprised of technicians, forensic anthropologists, elders/knowledge-keepers, and managers. The report was publicly released this May and estimates the cost for the search between $80 and $180 million dollars and could take up to three years. 

Despite the Winnipeg’s police department’s claims that the landfill search would pose a threat to the health and safety of workers due to toxic chemicals like ammonia and asbestos, the report addresses these risks and suggests ways to mitigate them.

In June of 2023, the Manitoba government released a statement saying they could not “knowingly risk Manitoba worker’s health and safety for a search without a guarantee.” In response, AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick conducted an interview with the CBC shortly after addressing the disparity between the methods outlined in the report and the statement from the provincial government: “Those issues are reflected in the study as to what can be done, as to what preventative measures can be taken not to put anybody at risk—so that homework is done, and I’m pretty shocked that those issues would come forward now.” 

Insufficient Efforts at All Levels of Government

The Manitoba opposition NDP party has voiced support for the search and proposed methods to decrease the cost of the effort, such as using search animals. The Assembly of First Nations denounced the government at all levels for not taking action to search for and recover the remains of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, stating that it perpetuates systemic violence. Former Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, who was sworn in as Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship in a recent cabinet shuffle, called the provincial government’s decision “heartless” and that it created legal challenges that would prevent the federal government from intervening. 

These statements are cold comfort to the victims’ families. They waited nearly 7 months, with little communication from governments or authorities, before being told a search would not be conducted. The feasibility report was completed in May, but in a July meeting, Manitoba premier Heather Stefanson told Cambria Harris, daughter of Morgan Harris, that she had only received the report that day and had barely read it. Harris said in a social media post that the meeting was  “retraumatizing… and [she] found it disrespectful,” accusing Canadian governments of “a game of political yo-yo.” 

Hypocrisy in the Search for Remains

A combination of police, firefighters, and volunteers has searched Canadian landfills for remains many times. Although the remains are not always found, the search is conducted regardless.

In 2019 the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls highlighted the crucial role of institutional or political reluctance in perpetrating the ongoing systemic violence. Despite this acknowledgment, government searches for other missing Canadians show that the blatant disparity is ongoing. 

In 2021, Toronto police conducted an 8-month-long search for Nathaniel Brettel, a white Canadian male whose remains were eventually successfully retrieved from the Green Lane Landfill, spanning over 130 hectares and amassing 800,000 tonnes of waste annually. At the outset, former Toronto homicide detective Mark Mendelson stated the odds of locating Brettel’s remains were “infinitesimal” but the search was nonetheless conducted utilizing multiple units, search animals, meticulous scouring of the landfill’s records, and even police volunteers to bring Brettel’s family closure. The search was the largest of its kind in Toronto’s history, and the Toronto Police Department declined to release the price tag of the search to media outlets, suggesting a high cost.

The search of Green Lane Landfill began six months after the disappearance of Brettel, yet the Winnipeg police department cited seven months as being too long to start looking for the three slain women. Furthermore, the city of Toronto recorded ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and methane within the Green Lane Landfill, the same chemicals that Stefanson claimed as preventing the Winnipeg search. The safety of workers and officers was never mentioned as a concern when searching in Toronto. 

The lack of effort made to search for the bodies of Myran, Harris, and Bizhiki’ikwe may impact the ability of the courts to bring their killer to justice. It will also leave a deep wound for their families. Without forensic evidence or testing of the women’s remains, it will be much more difficult for prosecutors to convict Skibicki. After the court injunction was approved and activists along with the victim’s families were removed from their blockade at the landfill, Red River Métis man Matthew Oliver stated that “again, ‘Canada is a rule of law nation’ means concern for some, while others are disposable.”

Action Over Platitudes and Promises

Indigenous community members highlight concerns regarding the potential precedent of refusing to search. The AMC’s feasibility report notes that the lack of a search for the three murdered women “could send a message that disposing of victims in dumpsters is a good method for perpetrators and one that comes with impunity.” The lack of protection, care, or effort made in the search for justice for murdered Indigenous women renders them an easy target for those wishing to inflict violence. In 2021, 4.31 Indigenous women per 100,000 in Canada were murdered compared to the homicide rate of non-Indigenous women- o.8 individuals murdered per 100,000 of the population.

In 2009, the federal government reported that funding needed to be allocated for the search of missing and murdered Indigenous women for “grid searches, crisis support teams, food, and gas”. They have also pledged $180 million to end the systemic and disproportionate violence against Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit individuals. Despite this, the federal government did not step in to aid the search for the three women until after Manitoba said they would not move forward with searching Prairie Green.


Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women a central pillar of his campaign in 2015, Indigenous victims and communities have seen little concrete action beyond platitudes and promises. Following the release of Canada’s 2023 budget, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) condemned it as a failure. NWAC Lynne Groulx offered a scathing review: “year after year, the budgets have been consistently disappointing. With words but no actions, this government continues to show Canadians that Indigenous women simply are not a priority.” 

The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women’s final report included a legal analysis that confirmed “the existence of a genocide perpetrated by the Canadian state against Indigenous peoples.” This cements the treatment of Indigenous people as Canada’s national shame and shows why the efforts toward reconciliation and prevention of further violence are woefully inadequate. 

Indigenous activists and community members such as writer Anna Mckenzie call upon Canada to “disrupt its deep-rooted lethal romanticization of Indigenous women and girls that empowers folks to believe we are disposable.” Among the recommendations, The NWAC suggested direct economic investment in Indigenous women to strengthen their currently vulnerable position in Canada, the creation and expansion of safe houses and cultural centres to provide protective shelters for Indigenous women who are at risk, and Indigenous-specific healthcare and counselling resources.

“It’s time for the Federal government to walk the reconciliation talk,” adds Ms. Groulx. Canadian governments are failing their human rights obligations by refusing to search for Myran, Harris, and Bizhiki’ikwe. Instead, they continue allowing trash to be dumped on Indigenous women’s bodies and on the hopes of families looking for closure.

Edited by Zander Chila

Emily Hellam

"Emily was born in Toronto but grew up in Bermuda, Malta, and Indonesia. She is currently in the fourth year of her undergraduate degree in International Relations from UBC, and works at the university...