Dozens of protesters continued to block a Winnipeg landfill after a city-imposed deadline Monday, and promised to continue protests until officials search for the remains of slain Indigenous women.
"We're fighting for a cause. We're fighting to get these women home," Cambria Harris, daughter of Morgan Harris, one of the slain women, said Monday.
"They could serve us an injunction — that means we have to vacate this area," Melissa Robinson, Morgan Harris's cousin, said. "That doesn't mean we're not going to go elsewhere. This is just the beginning."
The blockade of the city-run Brady Road landfill began Thursday after Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said the province would not support a search of the privately owned Prairie Green Landfill north of the city, where the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are believed to have been dumped last year.
Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in those deaths, as well as in the death of Rebecca Contois, whose remains were found last year at Brady Road, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders are calling Buffalo Woman whose remains have not been found.
The city issued an order late Friday afternoon demanding the demonstrators restore full access to the landfill by noon Monday. But as the deadline approached, the protesters enhanced the blockade with large planks of wood stuck inside dozens of tires laid out on the road.
Many gathered in a circle and prayed near a large red dress painted on the pavement to symbolize missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
A city official said he did not expect police to move in right away, and the next step would likely be to seek a court injunction as early as Tuesday.
"If we can't reach a resolution, then we will need to escalate our own efforts. That will very likely mean applying to court," said Michael Jack, the city's chief administrative officer.
There are environmental hazards, such as toxic materials leaching into the soil, tied to any disruption in landfill operations, Jack said.
He said the city could soon be at risk of violating its environmental licences and polluting the surrounding area.
The push to search the Prairie Green landfill has gone on for months, and the federal government funded a study this year that concluded a canvass of the site is feasible.
The study warned there are risks due to exposure to toxic chemicals and asbestos. The search could take up to three years and cost $184 million with no guarantee of success. But the report said forgoing a search could be more harmful for the women's families.
Stefanson said last week a search would come with long-term human health and safety concerns that cannot be ignored. She added the province would not stand in the way, however, if the federal government wants to lead the search, as long as there are guarantees for worker safety.
She stood by that decision Monday.
"This is a very difficult decision in Manitoba," she said.
"But I can tell you that we cannot ignore the complexity of the issue and the objective viability of other considerations — things like toxic and hazardous waste that are in the landfill when it comes to a search, things like the health and safety considerations of those who would come forward and be those that search the landfill, and the likelihood and probability of finding the bodies of those individuals who perished."
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the government should find some way to comb the landfill, but he provided few specifics.
"There's other search methods you could look at — search animals, other approaches to investigating the landfill sites."
The federal government has said it is still reviewing the feasibility study.
Cambria Harris said there have been searches of landfills in the past. Winnipeg police searched the Brady Road landfill for the remains of Tanya Nepinak in 2012, but looked at only a small area and called off the search after seven days.
In 2021, Toronto police found the remains of homicide victim Nathaniel Brettell after searching a landfill in Southwold, Ont., for several weeks.
Robinson said Monday a search for her cousin's remains must proceed.
"I'm not going to have my nieces go sit at a landfill to visit their mom for the rest of eternity. It's wrong."