A forensic anthropologist says it will be challenging but is possible to locate the remains of two Indigenous women believed to be buried in a Winnipeg-area landfill.
“If the women are there, there’s a good chance that their remains are not destroyed,” said Tracy Rogers, director of the forensic science program at the University of Toronto Mississauga, on Nation to Nation.
“They’re there to be found. But the challenge will be in all those materials that are surrounding them. The challenges of simply getting to the right spot. I would say that it is definitely possible to do the search; there’s a chance they can be found, that chance needs to be taken.”
Winnipeg’s Indigenous community was shocked and angered earlier this month when police said it would not be feasible to search the privately owned Prairie Green Landfill for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran.
Prairie Green is located in Stony Mountain, a short drive north of Winnipeg.
Harris, Myran, Rebecca Contois and a fourth unidentified woman Indigenous leaders have named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe or Buffalo Woman, are believed to have been killed last spring.
The Winnipeg Police Service charged Jeremy Skibicki with four counts of first-degree murder on Dec. 1. Skibicki has said he is not guilty.
Police have agreed to participate in a feasibility study to see if a search is possible. The federal government is paying for the study.
Rogers was the lead forensic anthropologist in the 2002 search of convicted serial killer Robert Pickton’s B.C. farm that located the remains of a number of women. She also is an advisor to Indigenous leaders working to set up the feasibility study committee.
Missed the boat
The head of Toronto-based Aboriginal Legal Services told Nation to Nation the Liberal government missed the boat when it passed Bill C-5 last month.
“Overall I think Bill C-5 was a missed opportunity,” said Jonathan Rudin, the organization’s program director.
“This is really Parliament’s only chance to address criminal law and we had hoped that they would do a more comprehensive look at mandatory minimum sentences, because I think we’re stuck with the ones we have and those are not very helpful.”
The legislation removes mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain crimes, including some firearm and most drug offences.
But mandatory minimums remain in place for murder, sexual assault and impaired driving.
These sentences are believed to unfairly target minority groups such as Indigenous women who now make up a staggering 50 per cent of Canada’s female prison population while representing only a fraction of the national population.
Rudin said he believes mandatory minimum prison sentences will now remain in place until at least after the next federal election.
Finally, a University of Ottawa professor told Nation to Nation that police forces across the county continue to do a poor job of serving Indigenous people.
“When Indigenous peoples are victims, they’re under-policed,” said Veldon Coburn. “They are treated as less than deserving of the resources that are normally dedicated or at least should be equitably dedicated towards the protection and security of their lives.
“When they go missing or are murdered,” he added, “it seems the police services across the country are not willing – and it doesn’t just seem like it – but we know as a fact that the distribution of police resources is comparatively disproportionate for non-Indigenous populations.”
Coburn teaches political science at the university and is also the adoptive father of Annie Pootoogook’s 10-year-old daughter Napachie.
Pootoogook was an award-winning Inuk artist who was living on the street in Ottawa when her body was found in the Rideau River in September 2016. Her death remains unsolved.