November 22, 2019

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Alberta seeks Manitoba's advice on liquor thefts

Manitoba isn’t the only province dealing with a dramatic spike in thefts at liquor stores; and now officials are trying to work together to solve the widespread problem.

Alberta is grappling with a 350 per cent increase in reported thefts from its private liquor stores since last year. In Ontario, government-owned liquor stores have signed long-term contracts with security companies and have had to bring in "new and industry-leading technology to combat theft," the provincial regulator said. 

Here in Winnipeg, police recently warned residents against vigilante justice as local Liquor Marts continue to log between 10 and 20 thefts daily. 

Police and regulatory bodies in Manitoba have been in touch with other jurisdictions about the increasingly brazen thefts. 

Now, an agency representing hundreds of Alberta liquor stores wants Manitoba’s input to help stop the thefts and get to the root causes of the crime.

Bottle locks are an example of the new theft prevention measures used by Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries to try and stem the tide of brazen thefts from their Manitoba Liquor stores.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Bottle locks are an example of the new theft prevention measures used by Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries to try and stem the tide of brazen thefts from their Manitoba Liquor stores.

Ivonne Martinez, president of the Alberta Liquor Store Association, said Wednesday she is reaching out this week to potential stakeholders in hopes of starting a working group with members from Manitoba and Alberta. The association represents about half of Alberta’s 1,500 liquor stores.

"Every jurisdiction, and every department, really, that is involved with liquor, is going to have to come to the table and come up with some innovative ways of trying to address this specific issue," Martinez said. 

She’d like to see organizations in different provinces share information about how they’re dealing with the thefts, including liquor regulators and health and justice departments. 

"I don’t think any of us have the answer, and so this is why we all need to come together and look at this from different perspectives, but I honestly just don’t think arresting people is going to be the solution. They’ll just get spit out into the system and back out, and they do it again... We need to try and see if we can maybe think outside of the box to find out how we can deal with it."

She said Edmonton police told the association two street gangs have been linked to the dramatic spike in liquor thefts in that city. A representative from the Edmonton Police Service couldn’t be reached for comment, but police in Winnipeg haven’t made a conclusive connection between gangs and stolen liquor here.

"I honestly just don't think arresting people is going to be the solution... We need to try and see if we can maybe think outside of the box to find out how we can deal with it." – Ivonne Martinez, president of the Alberta Liquor Store Association

"We feel that the rise of property crime as a whole, can be partially attributed to the use of methamphetamine or other addictive substances, such as alcohol, but there are also other social problems that may be driving the increase," Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Jay Murray wrote in an email. He said investigators may have had informal discussions with law enforcement in other provinces.

A spokeswoman for Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis confirmed the agency has "been in conversation" with Winnipeg police and the Manitoba government about liquor thefts.

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries didn’t grant an interview Wednesday, but in a statement, a spokeswoman said it regularly consults with other jurisdictions and "has recently been in contact with Alberta regarding the brazen thefts we are both experiencing. We are committed to exploring all options to combat Liquor Mart thefts and are always open to working with our partners in retail and law enforcement in tackling this problem."

A representative of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario declined to be interviewed but said some of its stores have increased security in response to shoplifting, and have implemented mandatory employee training that aims to help staff learn to be "credible witnesses" without physically confronting shoplifters.  

The opposite trend is happening in B.C., where liquor thefts have been decreasing for the past two years. The B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch attributes its success to something called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, which basically means it uses several tactics including locked cabinets, CCTV surveillance with monitors in public view and keeping track of "prolific offenders" with a loss-prevention team, the organization said in a statement Wednesday.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
Justice reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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