Chaos erupted at the Tyndall Market mall late Wednesday afternoon as a Liquor Mart robbery turned violent, sending a female employee to hospital with a head injury.
Two other Liquor Mart employees, and at least three other women, were assaulted in the aftermath of the theft, while others were reportedly threatened by the
suspects, including one armed with a knife.
Numerous Winnipeg police officers and several cruisers rushed to the shopping centre at Keewatin Street and Burrows Avenue shortly before 5 p.m.
There were no immediate reports of any arrests, but one of the suspects was tackled and wrestled to the ground by a mall patron, one witness told the Free Press.
A woman at the scene said her daughter, a Liquor Mart employee, was punched on the side of her face during the robbery; blood dripped out of her ear.
"Everything was checking out OK (at hospital), but then they found a crack in her jaw," the woman, who didn’t want to be identified, said as she went to the Liquor Mart to retrieve her daughter’s personal possessions.
"It’s unfortunate that something like this has to happen before people step up. It’s really unfortunate."
Customers and employees of stores in the shopping centre said the incident, which only lasted a few minutes, began when several young men started chasing a mall employee in the parking lot to the rear of the building.
"There were five guys and one came after me," the employee said, not wanting to be named.
He said one of the men was chasing him when he ran into one of the businesses.
"I was trying to hide. The guy said he wanted to stab me."
Witnesses said the group of men proceeded to the adjoining Liquor Mart, filled their backpacks with liquor bottles and ran back into the mall.
Smashed blue glass littered the sidewalk outside the main doors of the building.
Three of the suspects fled through the back door, but one of them stayed in the mall, while yet another assaulted two women who were at work.
"I came to my husband’s business and I was working on a computer, when a man came behind me and punched me in the side of the head," one woman said. "It was a hard punch — it knocked my glasses off."
She said the man also threatened her husband and another female employee, saying he would stab them if they didn’t give him money.
The female employee said the other robbery suspect out in the mall area yelled at her when he saw she was looking at him.
"He had a bottle in one hand and a knife in the other and he said, ‘This is how you take free booze’ and he pointed at the knife," she said.
The witness said the liquor store is robbed about every three days by several people at a time, but this is the first time things became violent inside the mall.
"They need to close that liquor store. That’s the only way this will stop."
At another nearby business, a woman said employees helped the two women who had been assaulted in the mall into their office, while a mall patron jumped one of the suspects and wrestled him to the ground.
"We pulled them in here," said the woman, who didn’t wish to be named. "They were very shaken up by this. This wasn’t normal here.
"It was scary. He was definitely on something."
One of the women who had been assaulted declined to be interviewed, but said she was OK.
A Winnipeg police spokesman said they would release a statement about the robbery today.
The Tyndall Park store has been hit especially hard by theft. Bands of thieves, wearing hoodies and disguises have raided the store in the past.
In a hastily called news conference on Wednesday night, recently appointed Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries president and CEO, Manny Atwal, said three employees were injured — with one hospitalized — in what he said was "an unprovoked attack."
Atwal said the Tyndall Park Liquor Mart would be closed until further notice. Atwal said because of the attacks, MLL will roll forward an announcement about new security measures that will soon be in place at all Liquor Marts.
"A secure entrance is going in (at the Tyndall Park location)" he said.
"Stores will be locked and customers will have to show valid photo ID before they are allowed to enter the store. While it will be the first location, it will not be the last."
Atwal, calling the thefts "a large societal issue" and Liquor Marts "being under siege" for more than a year, said all retailers, public and government must come together "to solve this problem.
"Our employees should not feel unsafe at work... our customers should not feel unsafe while shopping at our Liquor Marts. "This has to stop."
In a statement, Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, which represents employees at Liquor Marts, said "this situation is completely out of control, not just in our Liquor Marts, but also in private retail stores.
"We welcome the secure entrance initiative… but the crisis is bigger than Liquor Marts. This is a Manitoba crisis that calls for urgent provincial leadership. We are appealing to the province to bring all the key players in our community to the table. We need an urgent summit of law enforcement, addictions and social services, public and private retailers, unions, and the provincial government.
"It’s going to take all of us working together to get this crisis under control."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 at 10:20 PM CST: Adds details from CEO statement
10:35 PM: Adds quote from union.
10:56 PM: Adds pdf
November 21, 2019 at 11:15 AM: Adds video.