It’s humanity, not accounting


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Prairie Green.

It sounds almost too bucolic to be connected to a suspected serial killer.

But the Prairie Green Landfill is where the bodies of Morgan Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 26, are believed to be, two of four Indigenous women believed to be victims of the same attacker.

Partial remains of 24-year-old Rebecca Contois were found at the Brady landfill. Police have not said where they believe the remains of a fourth victim, Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe (Buffalo Woman) might be.

Searching the four-acre Prairie Green private landfill for their remains would take three years and could cost $184 million — and even carry substantial risks for potential searchers, given the hazardous materials in that location. But it is feasible. It can be done — but will it?

There are those who might say that dollars always matter, and that there are many ways that the money could be put to better and more effective uses.

And there are many ways that could be true.

Sadly, that’s not the whole equation. Because it isn’t an equation.

Humans have always taken great strides to recover both the lost and the dead. We take those efforts to the extreme point, sometimes, of taking on personal risk.

Think of this: two British ships, the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, went missing in 1845 as their 129 crew members searched for a Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean.

The British government put up a reward for information about the lost sailors, and between 1847 and 1880, more than 30 search missions, many of them dangerous, were undertaken.

Expeditions have criss-crossed the North looking for evidence of what happened to the crew, and for the location of the vessels. Millions of dollars have been expended in the process.

Even when the vessels were found and one part of the mystery was solved, the money didn’t stop flowing. The Canadian government pledged even more spending: $23 million in new money in March of this year to preserve the sites where the wrecks were found.

Solving that mystery, finding closure for what happened, is still viewed as important.

And in that case, no one with any close personal connection is even waiting for information or the remains of those sailors any longer. No one wants to have their remains to hold a proper funeral. No one’s tears are being held back, caught in the kind of stasis of disbelief that, in the absence of physical proof, some slim chance exists that a family member might be alive.

On 9/11, 2,977 people died in a terrorist attack on the United States. By 2002, more than US$24 million had been spent on identifying body parts from the 9/11 attack in New York. But the cost wasn’t the point.

By 2016, the price tag had risen to US$80 million. But that wasn’t the point either, and the work continued — and continues — because there were still 1,113 sets of unidentified remains. Tissue samples and other remains have been carefully preserved and stored for future advances in forensic science and identification.

“It’s important to people, and we’re here to serve people,” New York City Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Charles S. Hirsch, who has since died, told the New York Times about the work in 2002.

“If a government can’t do that, what good is it?”

What good is it, indeed.

Humanity — and the search for crucial answers during personal tragedy — is not a budgetary exercise.

If it were, we might point out that, with 39,566,248 Canadians at the last census, appropriate federal funding for a $184-million search would cost $4.65 apiece.

But this is not a simple fiscal ledger, actions dictated merely by columns of numbers.

We can’t say that often enough.

» Winnipeg Free Press

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