Thursday, December 15, 2022

Winnipeg landfill search can never be more than a token gesture

The issue of the search for remains of Indigenous murder victims in a Winnipeg landfill site is a difficult one.

On one side, Manitoba Indigenous leaders are saying that there is no debate, that it is just "unacceptable" (one of this year's most overused words) that the bodies' remains continue to languish in a municipal dump. It has become a cause célèbre among Indigenous activists in the region. And, at face value, it is hard to argue against this.

Winnipeg Police Services (WPS), though, do have a point, despite the poor communications they could be accused of thus far. It actually IS infeasible to search for and identify remain in a public landfill after six months has passed. Ten thousand loads of garbage has have been dumped since then. The landfill site is not huge, compared to some, but after six months of degradation, decay, mixing, compacting and "turnover", every little bit of organic matter would need to be analysed for DNA in the search for human material.

And, at the end of it all, if remains are identified (and that is a big "if"), there will not be a body as such to bury. How is this process going to bring closure to anyone? All we will have proved is that the victims are dead, which we already know. 

One relative of one of the victims opined on televsion, "It's the city. They're white. We're native. They don't give a shit about us." But really, I don't think this is anything to do with race relations, disrepect, or anything else of that sort; it's just a matter of practicalities. I don't mean to be callous, but some things just aren't feasible, whether it concerns white, black or indigenous people.

Whether WPS should have done something six months ago is, of course, another matter (they probably should have, even though there was already enough evidence to convict the accused - then, it would have been feasible). Meanwhile, WPS are currently going through the motions, offering to carry out a search of the landfill site, or at least discussing how such a search may be carried out, which is absolutely what they need to do, politically and morally. But surely, both sides know that it can only be a token gesture.


5 months later, they are still talking about it. But now, a price tag has been hung on the operation: the search for remains of the two Indigenous women at the Winnipeg landfill site is expected to cost between $84 million and $184 million, depending on the time frame, and is "not without considerable risks" due to toxic chemicals and asbestos.

Now, I am not saying that the lives of the two women are not worth this price tag. It is not their lives that are being weighed against it; it is the slim possibility of finding the bodies, and the fact that nothing concrete will come of it, if decomposed bodies are found.

I can't help but think that $184 million could go a long way to making the lives of surviving Indigenous people of the area so much better.

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