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No guarantees, but expert says search of landfill for women’s remains may succeed

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In 2002, investigators started a massive search of Robert Pickton’s pig farm in British Columbia and eventually found the remains of several women.

Twenty years later, the lead forensic anthropologist on that effort says a search of a landfill north of Winnipeg for women’s remains has a chance of success, although it is not a certainty.

“Even a very well done search may not find the women, but I think there’s a good chance that it is possible to locate them,” Tracy Rogers, director of the forensic science program at the University of Toronto Mississauga, said in an interview Thursday.

“I would say that it’s definitely worth doing, but it also requires this initial feasibility study to know the exact factors that the search team will be dealing with.”

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The Pickton farm became known as Canada’s largest crime scene as police investigated the disappearance of dozens of women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The search of the sprawling property lasted more than a year and saw workers go through hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of soil. There were hundreds of thousands of DNA samples and exhibits.

Eventually, Pickton was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder and given a life sentence. Prosecutors later decided not to proceed with 20 other charges in a separate trial. Many of Pickton’s victims were Indigenous.

North of Winnipeg, police initially said they would not search the Prairie Green landfill, where they suspect the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are.

Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, Myran, Rebecca Contois — whose partial remains were found in a different landfill — and a fourth unidentified woman who community leaders have called Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.

Police initially said a search would not be feasible, given that several months had passed. They also said there is no data indicating a starting point for the search and material at the landfill is compacted under heavy mud and clay to a depth of some 12 metres.

After pressure from Indigenous leaders and some of the victims’ relatives, Winnipeg police agreed this week to be part of a committee that would determine the feasibility of a search and put together a budget to present to various levels of government.

Rogers said the logistics of searching the Prairie Green landfill, which includes 1,500 tonnes of animal remains dumped in recent months, are challenging but not insurmountable.

“At the Pickton case … in the first few months, I looked at over 45,000 animal bones,” she said.

Even the compacting of material at the landfill would not necessarily make it hard to see evidence of human remains, she added.

“There should be visible signs for people who know what they’re looking for.”

Rogers is acting as an adviser to Indigenous leaders working to set up the feasibility committee. The federal government has committed to paying for the committee’s work.

“We’re glad to deploy the resources the federal government can, including financial resources, to help with what will be a feasibility study and will set the stages for the next conversations that we’ll have with the families foremost in the search for closure,” Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said in Ottawa Thursday.

A crime scene consultant in the United States, Ross Gardner, said a search of the Prairie Green landfill could succeed but would require a monumental effort.

“These types of searches are not always successful,” said Gardner, who is based in Atlanta and has authored books on forensics.

The 12-metre depth of heavy material, the passage of several months since the bodies were believed to have been taken there in the spring and the compacting process at the landfill will make for a big challenge that will require heavy equipment and crews to sift through and closely examine material bit by bit, Gardner said.

“It’s not going to be simple in any way, shape or form.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 15, 2022.

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St-Onge urges provinces to accelerate efforts to make sports safer for athletes

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Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge says ending abuse in sports will require complaints processes that include provincial-level athletes, not just national ones.

St-Onge and provincial sports ministers will meet during the Canada Games in mid-February where their agenda will include the ongoing effort to address widespread allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse in sports.

She says she asked the provincial ministers at an August meeting to look at joining the new federal sport integrity process or creating their own.

The national sports integrity commissioner can only investigate allegations of abuse from athletes at the national level.

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But St-Onge says the vast majority of athletes aren’t in that category and only Quebec has its own sports integrity office capable of receiving and investigating complaints.

The national sport integrity office officially began its work last June and has since received 48 complaints from athletes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2023.

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Justice is a Privilege Reserved for the Few

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History is full of examples showing us that Justice is a privilege reserved for the few, the wealthy, politically and financially connected, in fact, those of the right colour or race depending on where and when this justice was to be dealt with. Justice must be earnt, and it expends a colossal cost. What do I mean?

When a justice system demands proof of your innocence, while viewing the accused as guilty until that proof surfaces, the system of justice seems to be blind to all but those with the ability to hire known lawyers and a defense team to point out any misunderstandings that arise. A Black Man with many priors stands before a judge, accused of violent crimes. Will such a man have the ability to raise money to get out of jail and hire a powerful legal team? If he is a financially well-off man perhaps, but if he is an “Average Joe”, the justice system swallows him up, incarcerating him while he waits for his trial, and possible conviction. While the justice system is supposed to be blind to financial, sexist, and racial coding, the statistics show White men often walk, and Black-Hispanic and men of color often do not. Don’t think so?

America’s Justice system has a huge penal population, well into the millions of citizens in public and private prisons across the land. According to Scientific America, 71% of those imprisoned are not white. So do you think these men and women got there because of their choices or did the system help to decide that while whites can be either excused, rehabilitated or found not endangering the greater society, “the others” are threats to the nation’s security and population?

White privilege is still prevalent within our system, with financial privilege a close second.

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The World was white, but now its really black(non-white)
Justice for all is never achieved, just verbatim.
What can justice do for the lowly man
while jails fill and are built anew continually?

When you are seen as an outsider always,
and the precious few escape societies’ hungry grasp.
Justice for all is the cry we all hear these days,
While the policeman stamps your future out at last.

Martin L says the Black Persons going to win this war,
and a war of attrition it truly has been.
Justice is a privileged and socially mobile thing,
leaving the many to pray to the spirit of Tyre Nichols,
asking what the hell can we do???

I walked through an airport recently with no problem and no questioning. Customs and border officers were busy getting into the face of many non-white travelers. To this very day, a non-white person flying anywhere with a long beard, and dressed like a Muslim could get you unwelcomed trouble. Being different will always create difficulties. Being out of your place in another financial-ethnic society will be a challenge. Race, financial and political privilege will forever be with us. The powerful will always be able to dance around the justice system’s rules and regulations. Why? Well, the justice system is an exclusive club, filled with lawyers and police. The administrators and enforcers of the system. Some other form of the judicial system is needed, with a firm root in community equality. Can our Justice System be truly blind to all influencers, but the laws of the land? Can victims of crime receive true justice, retribution in kind for the offenses carried out by criminals against them?

” In the final analysis, true justice is not a matter of courts and law books, but of a commitment in each of us to liberty and mutual respect”(Jimmy Carter). Mutual respect of all actors in the play known as the Justice System, influenced, manipulated, and written by lawyers and academics. God help us.

Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario
skaszab@yahoo.ca

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By the numbers for British Columbia’s overdose crisis

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British Columbia’s chief coroner released overdose figures for 2022, showing 2,272 residents died from toxic drugs last year. Lisa Lapointe says drug toxicity remains the leading cause of unnatural death in B.C., and is second only to cancers in terms of years of life lost.

Here are some of the numbers connected to the overdose crisis:

189: Average number of deaths per month last year.

6.2: Average deaths per day.

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At least 11,171: Deaths attributed to drug toxicity since the public health emergency was declared in April 2016.

70: Percentage of the dead between 30 and 59 years old.

79: Percentage of those who died who were male.

65: Children and youth who have died in the last two years.

82: Percentage of the deaths where the toxic opioid fentanyl was involved.

73,000: People in B.C. who have been diagnosed with opioid use disorder.

8.8: The rate that First Nations women are dying, is a multiple of the general population’s rate.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2023.

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