Violence and murder of Indigenous women ‘normalized,’ says victim's daughter

The tragic story of a Manitoba woman murdered and disposed of at a garbage dump is now a focal point of an Ontario-based organization’s campaign to bring awareness to domestic violence and violence against women in Canada.

On Saturday the London-Abused Women's Centre (LAWC) in London, Ontario kicked off their 2023 Shine the Light on Woman Abuse campaign.

Since 2010, the campaign has grown from what was originally a small and mostly grassroots effort to what LAWC said is now an “internationally recognized awareness campaign, exposing men's violence against women worldwide.”

As part of the campaign, the organization posthumously honours women and girls who have lost their lives as the result of male violence, and on Saturday Morgan Harris of Winnipeg was named a 2023 LAWC “silent witness.”

Harris is one of four women believed to be victims of an accused serial killer. The remains of both Harris and fellow victim Marcedes Myran are believed to be in the Prairie Green Landfill, north of Winnipeg.

A life-size, red-silhouette image of Harris was revealed on Saturday, which included a plaque telling the 39-year-old woman’s story before she was murdered in 2022.

The plague ends with the phrase “#SearchTheLandfills” which has in recent months become a rallying cry for families and advocates who want the Prairie Green Landfill searched for the remains of Harris and Myran.

While speaking at the event, Cambria Harris, the daughter of Morgan Harris, said violence against women in Winnipeg is far too common.

“We live in a black-and-white society where it is far too normalized watching Indigenous women go missing and murdered,” Cambria said.

“It is well known Indigenous women have a higher rate of being murdered, leaving massive targets on their backs, leaving families left searching for them, families stuck begging for justice for their missing loved ones, families left shattered and forever seeking closure.”

Harris and others have for months been pushing all levels of government for a search of the landfill where her mother’s remains are believed to lie. Winnipeg police (WPS) said in December of last year they would not conduct a search.

“My mom and Marcedes were dumped in a landfill, a garbage dump, and at the same time I learned that news, I was told by Winnipeg police they would not look for their remains,” Harris said.

“It’s just not feasible, they said, to look for my mom.

“Human life is always and has always been feasible no matter the cost.”

The LAWC 2023 Shine the Light on Woman Abuse campaign will officially kick off on Nov. 1, coinciding with the first day of the annual Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Canada.

Cambria said if there continues to be no movement on searching the landfill for her mom and for Myran, she believes that will only do more to perpetuate violence against women.

“What precedent does that set for my community, for my daughter, for myself and our future generations?” Harris asked. “If they won’t search for my mom, they won’t search for any of us.

“That’s the precedent that is currently set in the province of Manitoba.”

Last year WPS did conduct a successful search for human remains at a Manitoba landfill. On June 21, 2022 police confirmed they found the partial remains of Rebecca Contois at the Brady Road Landfill in Winnipeg, after searching for approximately three weeks in an area police said was the size of between four and six football fields.

In June, then Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson announced her decision not to offer any assistance with a landfill search because of “health and safety concerns” for those who would be conducting a search.

But there is renewed hope for a search as current Premier Wab Kinew, who was elected on Oct. 3, indicated throughout his campaign he believed the landfill should be searched, and although he has made no firm commitments just days into his term as premier, he has suggested on numerous occasions that the newly formed NDP government would be open to assisting with a search.

On Oct. 4, one day after Kinew was elected, Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree announced the federal government’s plans to put $740,000 towards further review of a possible search of the landfill, after the feasibility study released earlier this year said a search for the women was feasible, could cost as much as $180 million but there would be no guarantees of finding the remains of either Harris or Myran.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun