First Nations leaders in Manitoba are calling for the resignation of Winnipeg's police chief after the force decided not to search a landfill for the remains of two Indigenous women believed to be the victims of an alleged serial killer.
Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson said failing to search for the women's remains does not instil a sense of public safety in the community. She said police Chief Danny Smyth should step down immediately so action can be taken to search the landfill.
"The message you are sending to the greater community is that Indigenous don't matter," Wilson said during a press conference Thursday in Ottawa. "That if somebody wants to hurt our women that they can dump them in the landfill and no one will look for them."
Smyth said this week that it's believed the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran, who were both from Long Plain but lived in Winnipeg, ended up in a landfilloutside the cityin the spring. He said the chances of finding them are very low.
Smyth cited the passage of time, the fact that 10,000 truckloads of refuse were dumped in the area in the following months, and that trash at the landfill is compacted with heavy mud at a depth of about 12 metres.
He acknowledged the families' pain and anger and said this was not how he wanted the searches to end.
Harris's family has joined in the call for Smyth to resign.
Kera Harris said she is fed up with police inaction in finding her mother's remains. She added that if Smyth can't get the search done, he should step down and give someone else the opportunity to provide the family with an appropriate resolution.
"We are all trying to reach a reasonable compromise, but we have yet to receive words of acknowledgment, response nor agreements," she said Thursday. "Not only have you refused to search these landfills, you have presented no alternative routes for how we can give these women peace."
Jeremy Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, Myran, Rebecca Contois and a fourth unidentified woman that Indigenous leaders have called Buffalo Woman.
Police believe the women were killed in the spring, although investigators have so far only located Contois's body.
Her partial remains were found in a garbage bin in the city and in a separate landfill in the spring.
Wilson was also joined by several other First Nations leaders in Manitoba in calling for Smyth's resignation.
Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs' Organization in Manitoba recommended shutting down the landfill to address safety concerns.
"You can't use language around it's not feasible because that doesn't work for us. It doesn't work for our women, and it's not going to work for our relationship with the police," he said.
Manitoba's Opposition NDP has called for tighter rules and more thorough record-keeping to help prevent cases where human remains are lost in landfills so victims' families aren't left dealing with an added layer of grief.
Party leader Wab Kinew said he "takes seriously" the police decision but added it's important to try and bring families closure.
"I take seriously technical considerations, feasibility, safety of people conducting a search but when I look at a pair of grieving daughters, grieving family members I think it's important that we make the effort."
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson is to meet with Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham later Thursday to discuss landfill searches.
"It's going to take an entire community to work together," she said.
Stefanson added she won't direct police to change their position on a search.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.
— By Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg with files from Steve Lambert
The Canadian Press