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Landfill Search Gets $40 Million from Feds, Province

An image of the Brady Landfill blockade before it was taken down in July, 2023.

The federal government and the government of Manitoba have agreed to a joint payment of $20 million each to fund the search of Prairie Green Landfill for the remains of two Indigenous women, Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris. The announcement came after a meeting between government representatives, the families of the deceased and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. 

“We’ll be a partner in searching the Prairie Green Landfill. Today, we committed an additional $20M, and so did Manitoba. The families deserve justice and closure,” said Gary Anandasangaree, Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Affairs via a post on X.  

Over the last 15 months, the landfill search has been a contentious issue in Manitoba. Two feasibility studies have been conducted to determine the cost and methods for searching the landfill effectively and safely. 

“A lot of money has been spent to convince governments to do the right thing,” said Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Cathy Merrick at a press conference held on the afternoon of March 22. “Today, meeting with the federal government and provincial government, there was a commitment from them to search the landfills.”  

While there is no indication as to whether the city of Winnipeg will contribute to the search, a statement released by a spokesperson for Mayor Scott Gillingham said, “Once a timeline and next steps are determined on a search plan, conversations will continue.” 

Mayor Gillingham has supported the landfill search and has previously met with the families of Myran and Harris. 

The Manitoba government has committed $500,000 to aid the victims’ families through the trial of the man who is alleged to have taken the lives of Myran and Harris as well as Rebecca Contois and an unidentified woman since called Buffalo woman. The federal government has also committed $200,000 to the well-being of the families. 

Cambria Harris, daughter of Morgan Harris, sat with Cathy Merrick at the press conference announcing the funds had been granted by the governments. Harris described the pain she has felt over the last year from the debates about whether the government should search Prairie Green Landfill. 

“I was sick of people controlling my narrative. I was sick of people telling me what they will and will not do with my mother’s body. And so it was time for me to take that back, not only for me but for my people and for my communities.” 

It is unclear when the search will begin or who will be involved. The AMC said the search would not begin until Jeremy Skibicki went to court. Skibicki is set to face a jury trial starting April 29, scheduled for 28 days. Skibicki is facing charges of first-degree murder for the deaths of Harris, Myran and Rebecca Contois. Bearing this in mind, the search may begin as soon as April or May. Wab Kinew has previously said the search will begin this year.  

A landfill search feasibility committee assessed that a total search of the suspected area would cost $90 million if completed within a year. Given the difference between available cash and the assessed cost, Merrick discussed whether the funds would be enough to properly complete the search. 

“We don’t want to go back and back again,” she said about receiving government funds. “We want to see this work be completed. We want to ensure that we find the loved ones that have been there for 15 months now.” 

The $90 million price tag declared by the feasibility study is an estimate of the highest potential cost of the operation if completed within a year. It is also an estimate of the cost of searching the entire area of interest. This is half the cost of the initial assessment done last year, which estimated the search to cost $184 million over a timeline of three years. 

When it comes to whether more money will be made available beyond the $40 million of funds granted remains to be seen. If the funds run dry, there is no plan of action for what the governments are willing to add to the fund for the search. Cambria Harris is sure to hold Premier Wab Kinew to his word. 

“Wab Kinew, in his words, said that we are going to search every cubic metre of Cell 13 where my mother, Morgan and Marcedes are lying.” 

The government released a statement the morning of the press conference stating that the NDP government is dedicated to ensuring the landfill search will happen. The statement mentioned that there is no way to be certain whether the search will be successful, but “We have to try. That’s our commitment to these families.” 

“It’s about showing that our Indigenous women, our Indigenous people, that we’re worth it,” Harris said. “That we’re valued, that we’re loved, and we’re more than worth searching for.” 

The search became a major focal point last summer after the previous provincial government announced they would not be facilitating a search of the landfill for fear of putting those in the search party at risk due to the hazardous materials in the landfill cell of interest. According to Jorden Myran, the sister of Marcedes Myran, then premier Heather Stefanson met with her and other family members the day of the announcement but did not read the feasibility study before telling them the search would not be taking place. Myran described feeling disrespected by the premier as the study made clear the safety protocols to be implemented upon committing to a search. 

“In the feasibility study it says that it is safe,” Myren explained to U Multicultural in August. “It just shows that she had her mind made up before we got there. What we said didn’t matter. It didn’t change the way she felt. It was clearly a pointless meeting.” 

Since August, Myran has been camped outside the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in a small tent community, protesting the government’s decision not to search the landfill. Their objective is to stay until the search begins. It is unclear at this point whether they plan to disband the encampment because of the announcement. The camp has been there for eight months. 

The Stefanson government received immense criticism after running advertisements in the Winnipeg Free Press emphasizing its opposition to searching the landfill a week before the provincial election. Former federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Affairs Marc Miller described the Stefanson government’s approach to the search as having “been dealt with in a very heartless way.” 

Manitoba Budget 

The announcement of the $20 million of search funds on behalf of the Manitoba government came the same day the province announced the fiscal year will end at a $2 billion deficit, an increase from $1.6 billion reported in December. This will mark the highest deficit ever seen in Manitoba -other than during the COVID pandemic. Finance Minister Adrien Sala has accused the former PC government of causing such a deficit because of health care promises which were not accounted for by the Stefanson government last year. 

“The increases in health care expense were spurred by decisions made by the previous government but were unbudgeted,” Sala said. 

PC finance critic Obby Khan rejected the claim, suggesting the current government is exaggerating the actual figures of the deficit. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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