Downtown Winnipeg a 'no-go zone,' says Empire Cabaret shooting victim

A Winnipeg man who was one of four people shot at the Empire Cabaret on the weekend is raising issues about security at the Exchange District club — and in Winnipeg's downtown in general.

No security measures visible when he entered the club, man says

A Winnipeg man who was one of four people shot at the Empire Cabaret on the weekend is raising issues about securityat the Exchange Districtclub — and in Winnipeg's downtown in general.

In a matter of minutes, Scott Smith, 35, went from the dance floor to the emergency room early Sunday morning.

He had arrived at the club with a half-dozen friends celebrating a birthday just 20 minutes before the shooting began at about 2 a.m. at the upscale Main Street club.

"I just saw a flash, and a bang and then another bang, and my girlfriend was saying to get down and I couldn't get down, I thought someone was standing on my foot. The poor girl beside me, I think I shoved her pretty good because I thought she was on my foot," he said.

"I looked down and there was blood shooting out the side of my foot… and the blood was pouring out the bottom of my foot like a fountain."

A bullet tore through the side of Smith's foot and exited out the bottom. Bullet fragments remain in his shattered foot, and he underwent surgery Tuesday night to deal with an infection.

Smith was on a stretcher and on his way to the hospital within minutes of the shooting.

'Didn't see any security'

On Monday, a spokesperson for the Empire Cabaret told news media that the bar regularly pats down club-goers and checks their identification.The club has a "fully-functioning, state-of-the-art" metal detector in place, the club said.

But Smith said he didn't see any evidence of those security measures when his group arrived at the club Saturday night.

"I didn't see any security. I was not frisked. There was no metal detectors. I didn't see any bouncers or security until I'm actually on the stretcher going out," he said.

"There was no security at the front door. The only person that I saw at that time, when we had walked in, was a girl taking money for cover charge, and that was it."

Clubs should improve their security to prevent the same thing happening to others, he said.

"There has to be, I think, better measures taken in the bars so guns cannot get in there," he said. "If the guns aren't there, the worst thing you'll have to worry about is a black eye."

Officials with the Empire Cabaret say the club plans to increase security this weekend, including turning on their security cameras, which were not operating at the time of Sunday's shooting.

'Downtown area is a no-go zone'

Smith recently moved back to Winnipeg after living for 10 years in Massachusetts. The city has changed in the years he's been gone, he said, but in some ways it's been slow to adapt to the changes.

"It seems the city, as much as it's changed, a lot of it has stayed the same. It's still a big city with a small-town attitude —which I love —but now we're getting that big-city influence of whether it's gangs, I'm hearing, or guns in the bar," he said.

"When I was living here, you didn't hear about guns in a bar, guns going off. The worst thing you had to worry about was seeing a fistfight and someone else jumping in. Maybe a knife here and there. But now you hear about these guns. It just seems there's too many guns. And you can't win a fight against a gun."

The shooting has changed the way he feels about Winnipeg and the city's downtown area, he said.

"In Boston, we have 'no-go zones.' You know not to go here. In New York, there's areas you don't go. I lived in [Washington,] D.C., you don't go here. It seems in Winnipeg, the downtown area is a no-go zone," he said.

A 41-year-old woman and two other men, both 32 years old, were also injured in the Empire Cabaret shooting.As of Tuesday, one other victim was still in hospital.

Police have not identified any suspects, but investigators believe the gun was fired during a fight between two groups of men in the club.

None of the victims was involved in the altercation, police said.