Weapons, not drugs, focus of library entry searches: city


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When security staff at Millennium Library check a patron’s bag for weapons, they’re not also searching for illicit drugs, the City of Winnipeg says.

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When security staff at Millennium Library check a patron’s bag for weapons, they’re not also searching for illicit drugs, the City of Winnipeg says.

The downtown library reopened to patrons Monday, with airport-style security measures, including a walk-through metal detector, two on-site police officers and four extra security guards. The moves have led some to question what happens when those new screening efforts locate drugs.

However, the city confirmed a patron’s bag will only be searched if the person sets off the metal detector — and the focus will remain on weapons.

“Security guards will not be searching for, confiscating or reporting drugs. Guards are responding only to the activation of the metal detector gate and would only report to police a weapon of concern such as a firearm, explosive, or machete. People can re-enter the gate up to three times to ensure they properly divested of metals both on their person and in their bag. If the gate continues to activate, metal detector wands will be utilized and the bag will be visually inspected,” city spokesman Adam Campbell wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday.

If a weapon is found, the patron can either forfeit the device and enter the library or keep it and leave.

The added security was implemented to support the full reopening of the library, after 28-year old Tyree Cayer was stabbed to death inside the building on Dec. 11. While the city’s flagship library remained closed, patrons were able to pick up and return reserved materials from Dec. 23 on.

The city’s explanation of its policy comes as some advocates insist screening must remain on weapons alone.

“I hope that… they are not removing needles (used to consume drugs) because we know that that’s a really important harm reduction strategy… Taking clean needles away from people tends to mean that folks are using drugs in less safe ways,” said Joe Curnow, a member of the advocacy group Millennium for All, which opposes the heightened security.

In an email, the Manitoba Harm Reduction Network deemed the added security measures unwelcoming to people who use drugs, and urged the city to avoid all drug-related searches and confiscations.

“People should not be searched for drugs, drug-related paraphernalia… or any other tools that promote health. If people have safer-use supplies on their person, removing them will only increase harms related to substance use for individuals themselves and their community… Further, these measures and searches will make the library less accessible for people who use drugs and also require library and computer services,” wrote projects manager Veda Koncan.

If police officers posted in the library become aware of someone bringing in drugs the response would vary, said a Winnipeg Police Service spokeswoman.

“There will likely be situations where there is drug possession but that drug possession may be simple, it may be larger scale (or there may be) trafficking. All three of those levels of possession require a different response,” said Const. Dani McKinnon.

McKinnon said police aren’t aware of any drug seizures taking place at the library since screening measures were implemented this week. She also noted the officers assisting with security can work throughout the building, not necessarily just at its entrance where screening takes place.

Police also have discretion in terms of how they respond to a person found carrying drugs.

In 2020, WPS Chief Danny Smyth told the Free Press he supports decriminalizing drug possession as part of an effort to treat drug use as a health issue, not a crime. At the time, he said his department already tries to avoid charging people for possessing a small amount of drugs, since doing so is “just not a really good use” of resources.

Coun. John Orlikow, chairman of council’s community services committee, said he agrees with the decision not to instruct security guards to inform police when they find drugs for personal use during a screening at the library.

“It’s a very chilling atmosphere there already in (the library)… We’re already using pretty strong measures with looking for weapons… If you’re going to go through and look for everything in the bag and rip apart these bags to find things, I don’t think… that’s the purpose of these security checks,” said Orlikow.


Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

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.

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