A Winnipeg MP is asking the United Nations to step in and push the federal and provincial governments to search a Manitoba landfill for the remains of two Indigenous women.
In a letter to the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Leah Gazan said she asks for international oversight of the governments’ failure “to search for our stolen sisters, and uphold the human rights of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people.”
“Families should not have to plead in order for their deceased loved ones to be treated with dignity and be brought home to rest,” she wrote.
The UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples consists of seven independent experts who provide advice to the UN’s Human Rights Council and help member countries achieve the goals set out by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Gazan said she believes Canada has a humanitarian obligation to search the landfill for the remains of Morgan Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 26, who police believe were killed by Jeremy Skibicki. He is facing first-degree murder charges in connection with the deaths of four Indigenous women, including Harris and Myran.
“I certainly think that if Canada wants to stay true to its identity as a human rights defender, then they need to start upholding those very human rights in Canada,” she said in an interview Friday.
“That includes the rights of these women who never had their human rights respected in life and now are not even having human rights expected in their death. It’s time for justice.”
Earlier this week, Marion Buller, a retired judge who led the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, said the federal government could sidestep the provincial government and make the search happen.
Gazan said she agrees.
“I don’t want to live in a country where we find it acceptable to put garbage on the human remains of loved ones,” she said. “That certainly is not how I want Canada to be seen.”
Manitoba premier’s stance unchanged
Last week, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller called the Manitoba government’s decision not to search the landfill “heartless” and said the province’s position has impaired the federal government’s ability to help.
“The reaction that we’ve seen from our partner in Manitoba is one that makes any decision this summer logistically impossible,” Miller told the Manitoba caucus of the Assembly of First Nations at the organization’s annual general assembly in Halifax.
“The federal government’s willing to help. We’re willing to play a role, a very important role in this. But … the government can’t nationalize a garbage dump or the waste-disposal system for the City of Winnipeg.”
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson maintained her position Friday, saying the government made its decision based on the risks to searchers identified in a feasibility study that examined how searching the landfill could be done.
“It’s a very difficult decision. As premier, you know we have to represent all Manitobans and we are very concerned about what was in the report in terms of the risks that were identified.”
The study, which was released in May, outlined various risks to searchers, such as asbestos, biohazardous material and toxic chemicals and identified how to mitigate them. It also estimated that a search could take up to three years and cost $184 million.
Protestors set up a blockade at the entrance of Winnipeg’s Brady Road landfill for more than a week in response to Stefanson’s decision earlier in July.
The premier said she can empathize with the victim’s families and understands their position, but hasn’t changed her mind.
“They’re out advocating for their loved ones and you know, I respect that,” she said. “Some will disagree with the decision that we’ve made as a government, but I think we can all agree on one thing, that this is a horrific tragedy.”