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Manitoba government moving forward with landfill search for remains of two Indigenous women

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The search of Prairie Green landfill for the remains of two Indigenous women who were killed by an admitted serial killer is another step closer Tuesday as the Manitoba government has approved an alteration to the Environment Act licence.

In a letter to Waste Connections of Canada obtained by CTV News Winnipeg, the province said the alteration had been approved to begin search activity at the landfill.

Excavating would happen in one part of the landfill, and a search facility would be set up in a second area. The letter said materials would be taken to the search facility and then returned to the landfill once they had been searched.

As part of the approval, the landfill must dispose of all non-hazardous solid waste created during the search, prevent any materials from escaping the landfill area, and retrieve materials blown onto other properties.

The landfill is also tasked with minimizing the number of animals at the site and has the resources available to clean up any spills that happen during the search.

If people feel they will be impacted by this alteration, they can appeal the decision in writing by July 10.

This all comes a day after the first-degree murder trial for Jeremy Skibicki wrapped up closing arguments. Skibicki has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Marcedes Myran, Morgan Harris, Rebecca Contois, and an unidentified woman who has been given the name Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe or Buffalo Woman.

Skibicki admitted to killing all four women, but pleaded not guilty as his lawyers are asking the court to find him not criminally responsible by way of mental disorder.

Premier Wab Kinew said Tuesday that the government was waiting for the trial to reach this point before speaking further on the search plans.

"We were advised that us speaking about our preparations and giving a timeline on the landfill search could potentially influence the court process, and that is something that none of us wanted to do," said Kinew.

Kinew said he did meet with the families of the victims Tuesday to go over the details of the search with them.

The premier noted work is already underway at the landfill doing prep work. The entire search is going to be a five-stage process according to Kinew, with the first phase focusing on the budget and approvals already completed.

The second stage will be setting up facilities and conducting test searches, followed by hiring workers as part of the third stage, then the fourth stage will be targetting where it's believed the remains are, and the fifth stage is expanding the search to a broader area if the first attempt isn't successful.

"We are going to make good on the commitment that we said that we would search the landfill and we're going to put the families first in the operation of the search, as well as Indigenous leadership." 

In an emailed statement to CTV News Winnipeg, the press secretary for the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Matthieu Perrotin, said the federal government has been there for the families and impacted communities in their call to search the landfill.

"We hear the families when they say we need to move forward now. We will continue to be a partner in this difficult work as we work together to search the landfill and bring closure and healing to the families and community members," said Perrotin.

The federal government contributed $20 million toward the landfill search in March, and has also provided additional funding for mental health support and the creation of a feasibility study.

- With files from CTV's Alexandra Holyk

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