A Winnipeg man has been sentenced to nine months in jail for a 14-month spree uniting the city’s two headline-grabbing plagues: liquor store thefts and the meth crisis.
Benjamin Karl Harrison, 33, admitted to 29 raids at Manitoba Liquor Marts across the city between May 2018 and July 2019, stealing nearly $7,500 worth of booze.
"I want to stay out of trouble and get back to work," Harrison told provincial court Judge Sid Lerner at a sentencing hearing earlier this month. "I want to do a lot better."
Harrison wasn’t arrested for his first theft until March 2019. Released on a promise to appear in court, Harrison was arrested again in October, after police linked him to all the other Liquor Mart thefts.
In a police interview, Harrison said he was "using a lot of meth at the time," Crown attorney Katy Sweet told court.
Aware staff had a "hands-off" policy when dealing with thieves, Harrison had a simple approach, Sweet said: "His method is just to grab the (liquor) and walk out."
Harrison targeted Liquor Marts across the city "because he didn’t want to steal close to his home," Sweet said.
Harrison sold much of the stolen goods to help pay the rent on his downtown apartment, after his worsening addictions to alcohol and meth left him unable to make ends meet, said defence lawyer Zach Kinahan.
Harrison has struggled with poverty, homelessness and addiction, and for a time was living in his car, said Kinahan, who urged Lerner to sentence Harrison to time served.
"Substances were having a powerful impact on his life at the time," he said. "He is ashamed of himself… He had a place to live. He could have worked. He doesn’t know what will be out there for him when he is released."
While Harrison may think his actions were non-violent, things could have turned out differently had staff or customers chosen to intervene, Lerner said.
"We run the risk of people deciding they are going to be good citizens, at least in their own minds, by stopping somebody from walking out," the judge said. "If that happens, of course, all sorts of bad things could happen. It’s a very dangerous situation."
Harrison received credit for time served, reducing his remaining custodial sentence to three months. Lerner sentenced him to an additional 18 months supervised probation, during which time he is banned from attending any Winnipeg Liquor Marts.
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.