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Landfill search advocates demonstrate at World Police Fire Games in Winnipeg

Demonstrators briefly pushed and shoved with security at the entrance to a World Police and Fire Games venue in Winnipeg Sunday night following a rally where Indigenous leaders and grieving family members continued to press the government to search landfills for the remains of homicide victims. 

About 200 people marched from the Oodena Circle — an Indigenous gathering space at The Forks in the city’s downtown — to the games’ athletes village. They chanted “bring them home” and “search the landfill” as they moved through the national historic site. 

Once at the games venue, a small group of demonstrators pressed themselves against the front entrance gates, which were held in place by nine security guards. After a few moments of tension, the demonstrators backed off.

 As many as a dozen uniformed Winnipeg police officers arrived soon after, but they weren’t observed taking action against the demonstrators.

The otherwise peaceful rally and march was organized by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), which represents the majority of First Nations in the province. 

The advocacy organization called the rally to continue to pressure the Manitoba and federal governments to move forward with the landfill searches. 

The remains of Morgan Harris, 39, along with those of 26-year-old Marcedes Myran, are believed to be in the privately run Prairie Green landfill just north of Winnipeg after the women were allegedly killed by the same man last year. 

Winnipeg police say they believe a search for them is not feasible. The AMC has said a recent feasibility study shows a search could in fact be safely conducted. 

The Manitoba government has previously said it won’t help fund a search citing safety concerns it says could result from sifting through toxic materials. 

Funding for games — but not searches — criticized 

Grand Chief Cathy Merrick told those at the rally that the province helped fund the police and fire games to the tune of millions of dollars. 

The Olympic-style competition featuring active and retired first responders is expected to bring more than 8,500 participants — including friends and family of competitors — from more than 70 countries.

Merrick urged Premier Heather Stefanson to not ignore the calls to change her government’s position. 

“As you have brought the world to Winnipeg, we will demonstrate to the world … this is not friendly Manitoba,” Merrick said, referencing the long-standing provincial vehicle licence plate slogan. 

About 200 people took part in the march from Oodena Circle at The Forks to the nearby athletes village for the World Police Fire Games. (James Turner/CBC)

“Beyond being premier, you are a human being … do the right thing and take collaborative action,” Merrick said. 

Merrick was joined by other provincial First Nations leaders and also relatives of the slain women. Harris’s cousin, Melissa Robinson, called Stefanson “heartless,” while Cambria Harris, Morgan’s daughter, described the provincial government’s decision “a scary, scary thing to do.” 

“What made these events (the police and fire games) feasible but not the search?” Harris asked. “It’s because they don’t value our lives,” she told those gathered. 

For some, the issue of the adequacy of landfill searches goes back more than a decade. Sue Caribou’s niece, Tanya Nepinak, is among Manitoba’s missing and murdered women. 

Police searched the City of Winnipeg-operated Brady Road landfill for her remains in 2012, believing she had been killed by a man later convicted of killing two other Indigenous women. 

The second-degree murder charge Shawn Lamb faced connected to Nepinak’s death was stayed by prosecutors in 2013 for a lack of evidence. 

Police searched Brady Road for six days but didn’t turn anything up. “They gave up on my niece,” she said, holding a large photo of her as she spoke. 

A woman holding the photo of another woman speaks into a microphone. She's flanked by other people who are listening to her speak.
Sue Caribou, left, told those at the rally she believes police gave up looking for her niece, Tanya Nepinak, at the Brady Road landfill in 2012. (James Turner/CBC)

“I am not giving up,” Nepinak said. “We’re all human beings and nobody belongs in no dump.” 

Hope new federal minister will act

Merrick said she’s hoping to hear soon from the new federal Crown-Indigenous Relations minister, Gary Anandasangaree, who recently replaced Marc Miller following a cabinet shuffle.

Miller had been critical of the province’s refusal to search, calling it “heartless.” 

For his part, Anandasangaree vowed last week to find a solution for victims’ families that is “just and appropriate.” 

“I eagerly await your call to begin carrying out this important work for our women,” Merrick said. 

In an interview with CBC just prior to the rally, Cambria Harris said Miller had been supportive of search efforts “all along the way” and hoped Anandasangaree would follow suit. 

“If they so claim to care about reconciliation, then they will search the landfill,” said Harris.

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