April 9, 2020

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In wake of weekend liquor store attack, union urges faster action on safety upgrades

New security measures for city liquor marts have reportedly resulted in a reduction in brazen, violent thefts, but the union representing employees says the changes are taking too long to be rolled out in light of an incident over the weekend where a man was assaulted during a theft that turned violent.

At least two city liquor marts have controlled entrances and exits, but more are needed — and fast — to keep employees safe, according to Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union President Michelle Gawronsky.

"The places that do have the controlled entrances, our members are saying they definitely feel safe. They’re back to enjoying their work again. They take pride in providing that service. The morale is definitely increased and they’re feeling valued," Gawronsky said.

"The liquor workers who are being left to defend themselves or are left to deal with thefts, they’re going to work in fear. They’re throwing up before they get into the building. Some of them are having nightmares. They’re definitely feeling it."

Gawronsky’s comments come on the heels of another violent incident at a city liquor mart. Winnipeg police were called to the Fort Richmond Liquor Mart at 10:50 p.m. Saturday after a customer had been injured.

A man was struck in the head with a bottle and briefly knocked unconscious after a theft-in-progress turned violent.

The victim, a 67-year-old man, "attempted to intervene" during the theft when he was assaulted, police said. He suffered minor injuries and declined medical assistance.

In response to the rising thefts through 2019, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries implemented new security measures, some of which continue to be rolled out. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

In response to the rising thefts through 2019, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries implemented new security measures, some of which continue to be rolled out. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Police spokeswoman Const. Tammy Skrabek said the incident underscores why law enforcement has repeatedly told the public not to intervene in thefts.

"It goes back to what we’ve been saying all along. If you see something happening, don’t intervene, but do notify the police. We know that store staff is trained, security is trained, and they know when to notify the police," Skrabek said.

"My understanding is that his injuries were minor. However, being struck with a bottle, not only could he have been knocked unconscious, he could have been seriously cut... It could have damaged his skull. He definitely could have suffered serious injuries as a result."

The case is being handled by the WPS major crimes unit and anyone with information is asked to contact investigators at 204-986-6219.

It’s not the first time a liquor theft has turned violent in Winnipeg.

Last November, Randi Chase, an employee at the Tyndall Park Liquor Mart on Keewatin Street, was assaulted while on-the-job.

In security footage posted on social media, one of the robbers walks up to Chase and punches her in the head, knocking her unconscious. A teenage boy was arrested near the scene that night. Two other suspects fled from the scene.

Gawronsky said the provincial government needs to move on installing controlled entrances and exits at all Winnipeg liquor marts — as was promised in the aftermath of the attack on Chase.

Customers now have to show their identificaiton at the Portage and Burnell Liquor Mart. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Customers now have to show their identificaiton at the Portage and Burnell Liquor Mart. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"I know there are two (controlled entrances). I know they’re working. But I’m not sure when (the others) will be done. What I will say is they cannot get them up soon enough... Post-traumatic stress is rampant with the workers at the stores that don’t have controlled entrances," Gawronsky said.

"I’m calling on the premier and this government to make sure that (MLL) can do what it needs to do to put those controlled entrances in place... They can’t move without the government. The government has full responsibility here."

At liquor marts with controlled entrances, the store doors are locked and customers have to provide valid photo identification to a security guard before being allowed to enter. They are currently in place at at least two city locations: Tyndall Park and Portage Avenue at Burnell Street.

The Free Press requested updated statistics on liquor thefts and additional details on when controlled entrances and exits will be in place citywide. MLL declined to provide that information, but did issue a written statement.

"We will not be sharing information regarding security measures which would include details about specific initiatives, including where they are, when they will be deployed or any measures of their effectiveness," a MLL spokesperson said.

"(MLL) remains committed to rolling out controlled entrances to Winnipeg Liquor Marts, with the goal of having all installations completed over the next few months."

On Monday, a provincial spokesman said the government had approved MLL’s funding request in full in December and the Crown corporation’s construction and operational planning is now unfolding.

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

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.

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History

Updated on Monday, February 3, 2020 at 12:41 PM CST: fixes typo in percentage

5:20 PM: full write-thru, new headline, formatting

9:37 PM: Updates story.

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