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Canadian Museum for Human Rights backs calls to search Winnipeg-area landfill for remains

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights says it fully supports calls to search for the remains of Indigenous women believed to be the victims of an alleged Winnipeg serial killer.

“In this situation, the human rights implications are clear,” Isha Khan, CEO of the Winnipeg-based museum, wrote in an Aug. 9 letter addressed to Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

In the letter Khan cites Article 12 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which says Indigenous peoples have the right to retrieve the remains of family and community members.

“It is a universal human value that the remains of the dead should be treated with dignity and their families accorded respect,” she wrote.

The push to search the privately-owned Prairie Green landfill, north of Winnipeg, for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran has been growing since December 2022. That’s when Winnipeg police said they believe the remains were taken there, but that it would not have been feasible to search by the time that determination was made.

The partial remains of another victim, Rebecca Contois, were found earlier in the year at the City of Winnipeg’s Brady Road landfill. A fourth victim’s identity and location are still unknown, but she has been given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.

The pressure intensified when Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said last month that her government would not support a search of the landfill north of the city, citing dangers to searchers from exposure to toxic material.

A woman is shown.
Isha Khan, CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, says it has a duty to promote discussions and contemplation on human rights issues as a national institution. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

A feasibility study completed in May determined a successful search could take up to three years and cost up to $184 million.

In her letter to Merrick, Khan alludes to the financial and safety concerns, calling them “issues on which we defer to others” but adds “given our role, we must affirm the human rights imperative to act.”

‘Deep human rights implications’: AMC

Supporters set up Camp Marcedes outside of the human rights museum at The Forks shortly after an injunction was granted to remove protesters who had been blockading the entrance to the Brady Road landfill last month.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs expressed gratitude for Khan’s letter in a Tuesday news release.

The museum’s support of a search for Harris, Myran and Buffalo Woman “highlights the deep human rights implications of the situation,” the release stated.

The CMHR holds hundreds of art pieces made during the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and has a duty to promote discussions and contemplation on human rights issues as a national institution, Khan said in her letter to the AMC.

“We carry the responsibility to honour those who have been murdered or gone missing. But also, to highlight how Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples often offends the ideas of universal dignity that underpin our national commitment to human rights,” the letter said.

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