UN reminds Canada, Manitoba they’re breaching international law by not searching landfill

A United Nations committee says Canada is obligated under international law to search a landfill for missing Indigenous women.

Jorden Myran, sister of Marcedes Myran (left), and Cambria Harris, daughter of Morgan Harris, march towards Parliament Hill on an International Day of Action to Search the Landfills in Ottawa. Photo: APTN file

Canada and Manitoba are violating an international human rights treaty by failing to search a landfill for the remains of three Indigenous women, says the Feminist Alliance for International Action.

The Alliance shared documents with APTN News that showed Friday was the deadline for both governments to provide information “regarding this critical situation” imposed by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

CERD warned Canada in a Dec. 8, 2023 letter it was ignoring its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

CERD said it had a responsibility to undertake the search and provide the families with closure. Refusing to remedy the situation “denies them dignity and dehumanizes the victims solely because they are Indigenous women.”

The remains of Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran and a third unidentified woman are believed to have been buried in the privately owned Prairie Green landfill outside Winnipeg.

CERD said that failing to act “perpetuates the documented crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.”

At stake

The Alliance reminded Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree and Premier Wab Kinew what’s at stake in its own letter on Feb. 8.

“We presume that Canada will not ignore the request from CERD, and that a reply has been prepared,” the Alliance said.

But neither CERD nor the Alliance, which notified the U.N. about the landfill issue in 2023, have received a reply, said Shelagh Day, chair of the Alliance’s human rights committee.

“Time’s gone by and nothing’s happened and the families are still upset,” Day said in an interview Friday.

“And the deadline from CERD is today.”

Sought comment

APTN has sought comment from both Canada and Manitoba.

Anandasangaree’s department has provided money for two reports on a search, while Kinew has said his government is committed to conducting a search. Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham has said the city cannot afford to contribute financially.

But there has been no formal financial commitment or timeline announced for a search since the families learned from Winnipeg police in June 2022 that their loved ones had been murdered, disposed of in garbage dumpsters, and buried in the landfill.

Cambria Harris, the daughter of Morgan Harris, said Friday she was grateful to the Alliance for putting pressure on politicians.

“It is imperative for allies, agencies, ambassadors, etc., to continue to hold all levels of governments accountable as decisions they are currently making continue to impact the human rights of not only Indigenous peoples, but people across Turtle Island and the world,” she said in a statement.

Bring my mom home 

“All I want is to bring my mom home,” Cambria added. “And I fail to understand why families have to fight to retrieve their mother’s remains from the landfill, when it should be organizations, agencies, ambassadors and people speaking up against these national tragedies that continue to impact the livelihoods of our people each and every single day.”

Day agreed the silence from politicians was another failure when it came to Canada’s record on fighting for Indigenous women.

“We’ve been working hard in alliance with Indigenous women partners for more than a decade on missing and murdered women, on sex discrimination in the Indian Act, on disadvantaged social conditions of Indigenous women,” Day said from Vancouver.

“We’re completely focused on making sure that international human rights law lives and breathes in Canada.”

The Alliance, which formed 25 years ago, said Canada and Manitoba were breaching the rights of the victims and their families to equal treatment, security of the person, protection of the state and effective remedies.

Issue of urgency

“This is an issue of urgency,” Day wrote in the letter to Anandasangaree and Kinew. “The actions provincial and federal governments take to search for the bodies of murdered Indigenous women and girls matter.

“The committee’s letter also confirms that the issue transcends partisan politics and concerns human rights issues long recognized as fundamental,” Day added.

“At stake is Canada’s reputation as a human rights leader that respects its human rights obligations.”

A Winnipeg man, Jeremy Skibicki, is scheduled to stand trial on the murders in April.

Late Friday, APTN received an emailed statement from the federal department of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

“The Minister has met with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and impacted families and our government has previously provided resources for the development of a feasibility study and operational plan for a potential search,” said Matthieu Perrotin.

“We have received the proposed operational plan to search the landfill and we will be there as a partner with the families, the community, the province, and other partners to move forward in a trauma-informed and culturally sensitive manner, as we work towards an approach that will bring closure for families and community members. We remain committed to putting the voices of families first.”

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