City warned about safety concerns at library days before slaying
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The Millennium Library remains closed to visitors following a fatal stabbing there Sunday, just days after a union’s plea for immediate safety improvements at the public facility.
Officers arrived at the downtown library around 4:40 p.m. Sunday, where they found a man suffering from stab wounds, the Winnipeg Police Service confirmed Monday. The man was taken to hospital in critical condition, where he was pronounced dead. Three male youths were arrested and placed in custody, police say.
It’s Winnipeg’s 51st homicide of 2022.
On Monday, the city announced the library would remain closed for a week.
“Millennium Library will not be opening before Monday, Dec. 19, as we evaluate next steps for ensuring the safety of all staff and visitors. Holds, returns and expiring memberships at this branch have been extended,” city spokesman Adam Campbell said in an emailed statement Monday afternoon.
Security has been a major concern at the Donald Street library for years, according to the union that represents many of its staff.
“Librarians shouldn’t have to be showing up for work having to deal with these types of issues. The (post-traumatic stress), the fear of coming to work, they’re not compensated for that… You’re coming to work to be a librarian, (not) to deal with stabbings and attacks,” said Gord Delbridge, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500.
On Friday, Delbridge wrote a letter to Mayor Scott Gillingham, the city’s chief administrative officer Michael Jack and others to demand immediate action to improve safety and working conditions at the Millennium Library. CUPE also planned to file a grievance on Monday, accusing the city of failing to provide a safe work environment for its staff, said Delbridge.
The union leader expected to meet with the city’s CAO on the matter Monday evening.
The slaying comes just days after police officers broke up a fight at the library Thursday. A police spokesperson said Friday that officers were called to the scene at about 7:15 p.m. and arrested one person. No serious injuries were reported, the spokesperson said.
Delbridge said he’s heard of various weapons being brought into the library, undermining its purpose to be a calm and welcoming space for all Winnipeggers.
“A library should be a safe space, a quiet space where people can feel comfortable. That’s not what this is,” he said.
The fatal attack on Sunday follows years of debate over how best to improve security at the downtown library.
The city added airport-style security measures at the library in February 2019, requiring patrons 13 years or older to submit to bag searches and scans with hand-held metal detectors. Those changes triggered backlash from some advocates, who argued the changes violated privacy rights and created a barrier to using the facility.
The screenings officially stopped in 2020.
Delbridge did not advocate for or against restoring those specific measures.
“I think that maybe we need to have a discussion on making sure the library remains accessible for all and what that means,” he said.
A key opponent to the airport-style screenings said Sunday’s “devastating” death is one of many incidents that make community members and library staff feel unsafe, but she rejects the idea that restoring “checkpoints” is the answer.
“A library should be a safe space, a quiet space where people can feel comfortable. That’s not what this is.”–Gord Delbridge
“I think the idea that we can just put checkpoints everywhere around the city… is lazy, it’s irresponsible… and it’s not really taking community safety seriously,” said Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land, a member of the Millennium for All advocacy group. “To produce community safety, you need investment and not just fences or gates.”
Dobchuk-Land said Winnipeg should increase investments in community services, such as expanded library hours, to truly address the root causes of crime and violence.
The group has supported a new community connections space the city opened at the library in April, which was designed to offer social supports to vulnerable library patrons, such as food, shelter/housing and social assistance benefits, as well as mental health and addictions services. However, Millennium for All urged the city to boost staffing levels to keep the site open longer.
“There’s a space that isn’t effectively staffed. The demand for adequate crisis workers across the system has not been fulfilled,” said Dobchuk-Land.
Coun. Sherri Rollins, whose ward contains the Millennium Library, said making the library safer is a complex matter with no quick fix.
“The reflexive calls (following a violent crime) are for paramilitary gear and, I can’t emphasize enough, the reflexive calls need to be about community centre outlets, sports, theatre and that protect the city best. The funding around that is really critical… That’s my focus (at) Millennium,” said Rollins.
The former chairwoman of council’s community services committee said a speedy return to airport-style security could simply push crime elsewhere downtown.
“When the focus is on, not the broader questions of community, but how to (turn) one building into a fort, I think you’re getting the fundamental community safety discussion wrong,” said Rollins. “What happened was an absolute tragedy… Yes, of course, there will be some talk that if there was airport-like security, there wouldn’t have been a (weapon inside) and I understand that, too. I’ll be going in and listening (to the debate).”
In an email, Gillingham stated the city is reviewing potential security steps now.
“We need to make safety improvements before we reopen, so the administration is reviewing what those options might be. They will be consulting with stakeholders from the library’s community working group as part of this review,” the mayor wrote.
Gillingham did not share a personal view on whether the return to airport-like security measures is needed.
— with files from Erik Pindera
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.