The last thing Randi-Lee Chase remembers before being knocked unconscious was fear; she was worried she'd be fired if she defended herself during a shockingly violent liquor-store robbery last week.
In an emotional video posted to social media Sunday, Chase — one of three employees viciously attacked last Wednesday afternoon during an armed robbery at the Tyndall Market Liquor Mart — said she hopes nobody else working in the stores has to experience what she did.
Can’t see the video below? Watch it on Facebook.
"I’m behind the counter and one of the guys leaves the store and I saw him holding this huge knife... and I just froze. I was so scared. And the other guy comes up to me and he says, ‘Give me the money in the cash register,'" Chase said, at times breaking into tears.
"I’m frozen. I couldn’t even attempt to give him the money in the cash register... I didn’t know what to do.
"I couldn’t do anything because I was afraid that I would get fired or I would be disciplined for protecting myself because I would have provoked him."
Security footage shows an assailant punching Chase in the face and she collapses to the floor. Her attacker then goes onto assault another employee.
Chase was rushed to hospital in critical condition suffering from significant head injuries, including a fractured jaw.
"No one should have to go through that. We should be protected by our employer. We should be able to protect ourselves... I was physically hurt and now I have to deal with the emotional issues," she said.
"No one should have to go through that. We should be protected by our employer. We should be able to protect ourselves... I was physically hurt and now I have to deal with the emotional issues." – Liquor Mart robbery victim Randi-Lee Chase
That emotional outpouring stood out for Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union president Michelle Gawronsky when she watched the posted video.
"You never envision it will be you.... You never know how it’s going to feel; looking at that young girl’s face, hearing the fear in her voice," Gawronsky said.
"Knowing the conversations I’ve had over this past weekend with numerous liquor store workers... all of them are terrified."
Over the past two year the number of theft and robbery incidents at Liquor Marts has skyrocketed; police say there are between 10 and 30 incidents on a daily basis across the city.
Critics have accused Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries of not doing enough to counteract the crime wave.
And with the holiday season fast approaching, a time when social gatherings and festive celebrations often lead to an uptick in alcohol consumption, Gawronsky said employees are worried the violence will continue to escalate.
"The members have actually been sharing that with me.... People leaving liquor stores are now leaving with boxes of alcohol. The concern now is also for the customers when they’re leaving the store," she said.
"It’s something they’re aware of and nervous about.... Our members just want to go back to doing their jobs. They want to get home and they deserve to be able to get home safe and sound at the end of their shifts."
Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries declined a request for comment. However, a spokesperson for the Crown corporation sent the Free Press a lengthy written statement, saying it will have more information about new safety initiatives this week.
"Employees at the Tyndall Market Liquor Mart went through a horrifying and traumatic incident.... Our human resources department has made sure resources are available for everyone involved at Tyndall, including counselling," the statement said.
"(MLL) trains our staff in non-violent crisis intervention techniques, which focuses on strategies for defusing hostile and violent situations. This is the standard for retailers across Canada.... The safety of our employees and customers remains our number one priority."
In the months leading up to the robbery, Chase said liquor thefts and security was a frequent topic of conversation among MLL employees. One week prior to her assault, Chase said she’d spoken to her manager and asked what it would take to prompt meaningful change.
"I said to her, ‘What is it going to take for the corporation to do something? Are they going to wait until someone gets killed or seriously injured?’" she said.
Police arrested a 15-year-old boy in the parking lot outside the store. At least two other suspects were able to escape.
In the hours following the robbery, MLL president and CEO Manny Atwal announced new safety measures, including a secure entrance for the Tyndall Park location and mandatory ID checks at all locations. The corporation said secure entrances will be rolled out at all liquor marts during the coming months.
Gawronsky said she believes it’s time for the province to do more to address the crime wave and she's calling for a summit with all levels of government and relevant stakeholders so progress can be made.
"We need to find out what all of us can do before somebody is killed or someone is seriously injured more than this young woman was," Gawronsky said.
"We need to acknowledge and recognize that we are in a Manitoba crisis."
Danielle Da Silva
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.