Woman in wheelchair assaulted in skywalk
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/03/2022 (209 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A woman in a motorized wheelchair was punched in the face in a random attack in downtown Winnipeg’s skywalk system, reigniting concerns about safety and security in the elevated corridors.
The woman, who is in her 70s and uses portable oxygen, was attacked from behind by a stranger inside the walkway near the Canada Life Centre and Cityplace at about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, police said.
“This was clearly an unprovoked attack,” Winnipeg Police Service spokeswoman Const. Dani McKinnon said Thursday.
The woman, who regularly stops by restaurants and stores in buildings linked to the network, suffered a facial injury and broken eyeglasses. Police believe she has been released from hospital.
Security interrupted the assault and alerted police, who arrested a suspect walking through Cityplace a short time later.
“This was clearly an unprovoked attack.” – Const. Dani McKinnon
A 28-year-old man, who was released on an undertaking as per the Criminal Code, is facing a charge of assault causing bodily harm. He is known to police, said McKinnon.
The daylight attack triggered shock and outrage among people who live and work in the city’s core. It happened just steps from a security booth, at a time of day when many people are using the skywalk to go to work, although there has been less foot traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic.
People who work in Cityplace said the woman passes through the building on an almost daily basis, and often stops to speak to employees, friends or other people she recognizes.
A security guard said the woman decorates her wheelchair (others said based on the season, using Christmas ornaments in December, for example) and plays music in the skywalk.
“She is so polite, so nice and friendly,” said restaurant worker Anmol Dhaliwal, who was upset when told of the attack. “It’s disgusting. How could somebody punch a woman in a wheelchair?”
Winnipeggers who regularly meet for lunch or a drink in the food court said they noticed the woman hasn’t been around for a couple of days.
“She’s a very nice lady,” said Colinda Lucier.
The assault sparked a fresh conversation about safety and security, and if any further measures are necessary.
A similar incident happened in the skywalk Jan. 26, when a woman in her 50s was asked for money and pushed up against a wall, assaulted with a handheld tool and threatened by a man.
A 40-year-old suspect was arrested in that incident, which happened near the Hargrave Street entrance.
Lucier said she has been paying more attention to her surroundings and safety in the skywalk since she, too, started using a wheelchair: “They should have more patrols.”
Near the end of Thursday’s lunch hour, a steady stream of people — from office workers to downtown residents meeting for coffee — passed the spot where the attack on the woman in her 70s occurred a day earlier.
Those who spoke to the Free Press had varying things to say about security and safety, and their own level of comfort in the skywalk system.
Some said they want to see an increased police and security presence; others said they regularly see officers on patrol and feel safe.
“(Security) can only be in so many spots at one time,” said Mark Zubach. “I do keep my eyes open (and) head on a swivel.”
“(Security) can only be in so many spots at one time… I do keep my eyes open (and) head on a swivel.” – Mark Zubach
Some workers and visitors feel security is more visible in certain sections of the system — near Canada Life Centre and Cityplace, for example — than in others.
Surveillance cameras are installed throughout the walkway system. Its sections have various private owners.
WPS headquarters is about a block away, and workers said they often see police officers in the Cityplace food court on their breaks.
Solving issues such as panhandling, public intoxication or aggressive or violent behaviour goes beyond patrols or enforcement, some workers said. Issues such as mental health, addiction and homelessness need to be addressed, as well.
“What needs to be tackled is that root cause,” said Jennifer Parkman, who was holding a cup of coffee as she walked through Cityplace with a co-worker.
Security guards walked by multiple times as she and others spoke to a reporter.
McKinnon said police, particularly the downtown foot patrol, work on security and underlying issues with agencies such as the Downtown Community Safety Partnership, Winnipeg Transit, private security firms and outreach groups.
Part of the skywalk system falls within Coun. Sherri Rollins’ ward of Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry. Rollins said Thursday she is concerned by incidents in the area and gender-based violence.
“Unfortunately, women are still being attacked in the downtown,” she said. “Having a resident of mine punched in the face and injured, the sheer amount of terror someone must feel being attacked from behind… It isn’t acceptable.”
“Having a resident of mine punched in the face and injured, the sheer amount of terror someone must feel being attacked from behind… It isn’t acceptable.” – Coun. Sherri Rollins
Regarding downtown safety and any potential improvements, Rollins said she meets with members of the Winnipeg Police Board to discuss concerns and initiatives.
The city councillor said she would like to see more data sharing on crime to help to guide policy makers in their decisions.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.