Snap decision won’t necessarily make things safer at library City can’t forget downtown facility is, for many, more than a place to read books when determining security upgrades

Before City of Winnipeg officials make any rash decisions about beefing up security at the Millennium Library, they should perform a comprehensive risk assessment to fully understand what, if any, new measures are needed.

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Before City of Winnipeg officials make any rash decisions about beefing up security at the Millennium Library, they should perform a comprehensive risk assessment to fully understand what, if any, new measures are needed.

The tragic death of Tyree Cayer at the downtown library Sunday has reignited debate about security measures at the public facility. Some are calling for the return of metal detectors and bag searches, which were introduced in 2019 but cancelled the following year after a public backlash. City officials acknowledged the measures put in place at the time were an overreaction. They were not well thought out, nor based on a proper risk assessment. The city also failed to consult with the public and stakeholders to get their input before proceeding. It was a knee-jerk reaction.


That’s not to say there is no need to improve security at the library. There have been reports of violence at the facility over the years, although the vast majority have not included weapons. Library staff have a right to feel safe in their working environment. However, whether metal detectors and bag searches really improve safety at the library has not been established through an objective analysis.

One of the questions that needs to be answered is how often firearms, knives or other dangerous weapons, such as pepper spray or metal pipes, have been used in the commission of an offence at the library. There have been very few reported cases in recent years of people caught with dangerous weapons inside the building. Police responded to a man waving a knife erratically in the library last month. Fortunately, no one was harmed. It was an isolated incident library officials described as uncommon.

The decision to bring in metal detectors and bag searches in 2019 was based on reports of escalating threats to staff. However, it’s unclear what the nature of those threats were. That’s an important piece of the puzzle. If most of the threats were verbal and/or physical, but did not involve weapons, metal detectors and bag searches would do little to improve safety.

The installation of metal detectors in a public building should not be taken lightly. It’s an extreme measure, especially in a public place such as a city library, which attracts a wide range of people from many socio-economic backgrounds. It’s not the same as screening people entering a courthouse, where there are unique risks owing to the nature of the activity in the building. Nor is it the same as installing them at the Manitoba Legislative Building, which is used by the general public, but not in the same way as a public library.

Canada Life Centre, where the Winnipeg Jets play, uses walk-through metal detectors. However, it’s a privately owned facility that follows an NHL-wide mandate to screen all fans entering the arena. It’s not a general-use facility.

Airport-style security is an onerous step that discourages some people from using a public space. When hand-held metal detectors were deployed at the Millennium Library in 2019, attendance dropped sharply. Subjecting people to high-level security was a disincentive for many to use the facility. Meanwhile, most of the items confiscated from people were things such as scissors and pen knives — not typical “weapons” used in the commission of a crime.

As tragic as last weekend’s stabbing was, a single incident should not determine the level of security in a building. There was a stabbing at Seven Oaks Hospital last year, but it didn’t result in the installation of metal detectors. Putting patients and families through that level of screening because of one incident would have been an overreaction. Similarly, there was a stabbing this week at a convenience store on Selkirk Avenue. It’s unlikely the store owner will respond by installing metal detectors.

If more security is required at the Millennium Library, it should be proportionate to the level of risk based on a thorough needs assessment. If there is evidence that dangerous weapons are being smuggled into the library and represent a threat to staff and members of the public, an appropriate level of security should be put in place to address it. What the city shouldn’t do is make a snap decision based on limited information.

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.


Updated on Friday, December 16, 2022 6:02 AM CST: Removes 'fatal'

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