Toronto

After $77M worth of booze stolen in 1 year, LCBO union demands Ontario copy Manitoba's crackdown plan

'There has been a brazen amount of theft going on,' says long-time LCBO employee

Posted: March 25, 2019

Denise Davis of OPSEU says she's worried about the safety of LCBO staff and customers without extensive security measures in place. (Maggie Macintosh/CBC)

Denise Davis says many mickeys of vodka have gone missing from LCBO shelves since she started working there almost 40 years ago.

But over the last year, the veteran LCBO employee says alcohol theft in Ontario has become rampant as thieves have started to stuff duffle bags with bottles of Grey Goose and threaten employees with weapons consistently.

"There has been a brazen amount of theft going on," Davis told CBC Toronto. "This is the worst that I've ever seen."

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Earlier this year, OPSEU — the union that represents liquor store employees — told CBC Toronto the LCBO lost about $77 million due to theft in 2018.

LCBO staff are trained not to intervene when a thief takes off with products. Davis said the LCBO's customer service representatives report theft incidents and then share that information with police and nearby LCBO stores.

That's why Davis, chair of OPSEU's liquor store employees division, wants Ontario to take note of its next-door neighbour's strategy to crack down on liquor store thefts and keep employees and customers safe.

Last week, Manitoba announced a multi-point liquor theft prevention plan in response to a growing number of alcohol robberies in the province.

"It's great to let the public know that they are taking it seriously and they are going to do something," Davis said. "I'd like to see Doug Ford and the CEO of LCBO do that."

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LCBO on Spadina Avenue in downtown Toronto. (Maggie Macintosh/CBC)

The LCBO did not immediately respond to CBC Toronto's request for comment.

Last month, the Crown corporation said it was ramping up security measures by increasing the number of security guards at select stores and implementing "industry-leading" technology to deter thefts.

But Davis said OPSEU is determined to continue to improve the safety in their stores. And she said she wants a plan that mirrors Manitoba's to come out of the union and LCBO's meeting on April 10.

Manitoba's plan to deter liquor theft

Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries plans to add more security staff to their liquor stores, introduce ID checks at entrances and make high-value targeted products available only by request, among other security measures.

Loss prevention officers — employees trained to catch thieves after they have left stores and use citizens' arrest powers to hold them until police arrive — will also be present in Manitoba's liquor stores at peak theft times.

Denise Davis of OPSEU wants the LCBO to bring in more security officers to protect staff and customers from violent thieves. (Maggie Macintosh/CBC)

"I would hope that perhaps Ontario might follow Manitoba's lead and really crank up the efforts to stop thefts," OPSEU president Warren Thomas told CBC Toronto.

Thomas said the premier has taken "baby steps" in addressing the problem. The province has named a special advisor for the Beverage Alcohol Review, which is slated to modernize Ontario's beverage system.

Both Thomas and Davis said the union is open to models that improve safety and security in their stores.

That could mean training loss prevention officers to work in LCBO stores, Thomas added.

Concern about alcohol theft ring

"We can't just have security in a high-risk store once a week. We need to know when these thieves are coming in, track that down and be present," Davis said.

She added she believes alcohol thieves across the province are working together in a theft ring due to large amounts being stolen from stores.

Toronto police did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the matter. 

In February the LCBO announced it would be ramping up security measures in some Ontario stores to deter thefts. (Maggie Macintosh/CBC)

Toronto resident Lewis Waring said he witnessed a man in sunglasses rob an LCBO with a big Ikea plastic bag about six months ago.

He said something needs to be done about increasing security in the stores since LCBO staff aren't trained to intervene in robberies.

"They need to do something about that because if it's free for other people then why am I paying for booze," Waring said. "There should be people to enforce the rules if we have to follow them."

Lewis Waring said he was surprised when he witnessed a robbery in an LCBO and employees didn't intervene. (Maggie Macintosh/CBC)