Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree says the federal government is on the verge of presenting a plan in response to calls for a search of a Manitoba landfill for the remains of two First Nations women believed to have been murdered by an alleged serial killer.
“This is an issue that we’re in for the long haul,” Anandasangaree told CBC News on Friday.
“We will make a decision very shortly.”
Anandasangaree said Ottawa is willing to support a search but it needs Manitoba to get on board.
“We’re not having a mature conversation with the different levels of government on how to get to the right place,” he said.
“We do need the province of Manitoba to be at the table.”
Anandasangaree has been under pressure to fund a search of the Prairie Green Landfill ever since he was shuffled into the role at the end of July.
Cambria Harris — the daughter of Morgan Harris, one of the two women whose remains are believed to be buried somewhere in the sprawling landfill — walked out of a meeting with Anandasangaree in Ottawa on Sept. 18. She said she turned her back on the meeting because the minister wouldn’t make a firm commitment to a search.
“I recognize how frustrating that may be,” Anandasangaree said. “Unfortunately, we were not able to have clarity at that meeting, but we are definitely working on a solution that will be coming out imminently.”
Winnipeg Police say they believe the bodies of Harris and Marcedes Myran are somewhere in the private landfill facility north of Winnipeg.
The federal government funded a feasibility study but has made no firm commitment to pay for a search. The study said a search could cost between $84 million and $184 million and could take one to three years.
‘Deeply offensive and deeply troubling’
Anandasangaree said he’s very troubled by how the issue is playing out in Manitoba’s provincial election campaign. The campaigning Progressive Conservatives have released ads and billboards promoting their opposition to a search.
“It is deeply offensive and deeply troubling and deeply hurtful to the families to have this politicized in such a way that re-traumatizes the family members and the community,” he said.
One Progressive Conservative billboard in Winnipeg says: “Stand firm against the unsafe $184 million landfill dig.”
Myran’s sister Jorden Myran said the ads create another level of pain for her family.
“It’s hard enough that I have to stand in front of these cameras and grieve while I fight to get her home,” she said.
“I don’t need stuff added on to what I’m fighting for.”
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said she can’t imagine what it feels like to be a family member waking up to political ads talking about their loved ones.
“I would say using families as a political wedge is the lowest form of politics that I can actually imagine,” Hajdu told CBC’s The House in an interview airing Saturday.
Kevin Klein, the Progressive Conservative MLA running for re-election in Kirkfield Park, insisted his party is not trying to create a wedge issue.
“I believe that our premier and our PC team wanted to make sure that we were being clear and transparent with all Manitobans,” Klein said.
“We believe that we made the right decision. The entire PC caucus supports our premier, Heather Stefanson, on the decision made.”
Chief Kyra Wilson of Long Plain First Nation, the home community of both Myran and Harris, told CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live the governing party’s use of the landfill search issue for political purposes is an act of desperation.
“It’s disgusting,” Wilson said in an interview that will air Sunday.
Wilson said she believes a final decision on a landfill search will be made following the provincial election on Oct. 3.
Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham also denounced the politicization of the search and said there needs to be a definitive response from the federal and provincial governments.
“If that’s indeed the case, that the federal minister has some clear news in the coming weeks, I think everybody would welcome that,” Gillingham told CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live.