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This article was published 26/6/2019 (204 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Millennium Library management and senior city staff deliberately exaggerated incidents of violence to justify the imposition of airport-like security screening measures at the downtown Winnipeg centre, a local advocacy group charges.
Sarah Broad, a member of Millennium for All, told councillors on the protection, community services and parks committee at its Wednesday meeting that statistics from the Winnipeg Police Service don’t show a pattern of increasing violence at the downtown library, as claimed by city administrators.
The number and type of incidents fluctuate from year to year, she said, and a dramatic increase can be manipulated by choosing an alternate base year.
"Rather than a random increase in violence, (the police data) show a pattern that ebbs and flows," Broad. "This is a manipulation of information to serve a hastily-made decision where there has been no substantive evidence on the scale of the violence to necessitate this huge expense and destruction of a public space that we’ve seen."
Local residents formed the advocacy group in response to library management’s surprise announcement in mid-February that all patrons 15 years and older would be subject to bag searches and hand-held metal detector sweeps.
The security increase has been supported by city police and Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500, which represents library staff, but it also generated some public backlash, demanding the measures be ended.
The security measures are believed to be the first implemented at a public library in Canada.
The move caught even members of the protection committee by surprise. There had been no reports to the committee during the previous five years of any concerns over public and employee safety, and its councillors were not advised ahead of time of the implementation of the security measures.
Broad said the administration’s manipulation prevents councillors from dealing with a problem common in many sections of the downtown area.
"I do understand there are significant challenges facing Winnipeg’s public space, including the Millennium, but the reports that were provided to you misrepresented the evidence available in such a way that it prevents you and the larger Winnipeg community from accurately understanding and intervening in the problems," Broad said.
"The number of misleading statements have been, quite frankly, shocking."
Councillors asked few questions of Broad following her presentation, and none were directed to the administration.
Coun. Sherri Rollins, chairwoman of the committee, later told reporters the committee didn’t respond to Broad’s allegations because the administration has already been directed to find alternatives to the new security measures. A report on the matter is due in the fall.
"I believe that the library staff saw and responded accordingly, and (Broad) brought a perspective today. I wouldn’t go as far to say she mischaracterized the library staff," Rollins said.
"We’ve heard from the police chief and from neighbourhoods that they’re really concerned about safety in Winnipeg," she said, adding her ward office is dealing daily with complaints of homeless camps, drug paraphernalia and fires in parks across her sprawling ward of Fort Rouge—East Fort Garry, which includes the downtown library.
Rollins would not say if she supports or opposes the current security measures.
"There is truth on both sides," she said. "People do feel a little safer (with the security measures in place) using the library, and people also don’t feel safer because of the presence of airport-like security."
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.