Security guards struggle with lack of training, authority, union says after stabbing at Manitoba EIA office
'Give them the authority to deal with violence, not just the responsibility': MGEU
The stabbing of a security guard at an employment and income assistance office in Winnipeg's Exchange District has the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union urging the province to review training and safety protocols.
"No workers should ever worry about safety and being in a life and death situation. It's not acceptable, anywhere," said MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky.
On Monday afternoon, a guard at the EIA office at 111 Rorie St. was stabbed when a man entered the building, leaped over a counter and made his way past a glass barrier, witnesses said.
When the security guard asked the man to leave, he pulled out a knife and stabbed the guard, a police news release said.
The MGEU said the incident is not the first time a violent situation has put front-line government workers in harm's way.
"The government needs to come forward with a comprehensive plan to protect frontline workers at their jobs," said Gawronsky.
The security guard was taken to hospital in unstable condition, which was later upgraded to stable.
Meth 'root of the violent outbursts'
Gawronsky says the escalation of methamphetamine use in the city is directly linked to an increase in violence some government workers are facing in their jobs.
"Our members tell us drug addictions — meth in particular — seems to be the root of the violent outbursts that are happening," she said.
CBC News spoke with two security guards — who agreed to speak on the condition they not be named — who say that security personnel actively avoid working at the Rorie EIA location, due to the clientele and increased use of meth in the area.
"We need to address the threat of violence, and do it immediately," Gawronsky said. "The government needs to step up."
The province says incidents like Monday's attack are rare, and the Rorie EIA office last experienced a "serious" incident nearly 15 months ago.
"The safety of our staff and clients is our priority, so we have increased security procedures at this building in the interim while we continue to assess and review our security procedures and infrastructure," said a spokesperson for the province.
"In 2018, there were six incidents at the [EIA] location on Rorie that were seen as aggressive and ranged from banging on glass, pulling fire alarms, or incidents between clients," the spokesperson said in an email, but those "did not meet the definition of a serious incident."
The province defines "serious" incidents as those "which would include direct harm to an employee," the spokesperson said.
Security guards working in provincial buildings may be provincial employees, or may be hired through a private security service, the statement said.
Training and safety
Gawronsky wants the province to sit down with the union and look at putting security officers in less vulnerable positions.
"The government has not taken us up the on opportunity to sit down with protection officers and front-line workers to take a look at what is going on," she said.
"We need to be looking at … non-violent crisis intervention training, or re-evaluate the training," she said, adding countertop to ceiling barriers and speakers for communication to protect workers are also worth looking at.
MGEU has also argued in the past that it's unclear what authority security guards — particularly those working in hospitals — have to intervene in a violent incident.
The front-line workers CBC News spoke to said they want to be equipped with handcuffs, or a baton.
Gawronsky has also previously argued that security guards in other roles — working in Manitoba Liquor Marts, for example — should have peace officer status.
The province should extend the powers the security officers have, Gawronsky said Thursday, especially when dealing with a hostile situation.
"Give them the authority to be able to deal with the violence, not just the responsibility. Allow them to detain people," she said.
Gawronksy feels incorporating education for staff at the offices to better understand how to deal with someone on drugs would be valuable.
"We need to be educating people on what meth can do, teaching our people in the workforce on how to deal with someone who's coming in strung out on meth," she said.
"They need to have the training to recognize a situation that may be imminent."
As for the victim of Monday's stabbing, Gawronsky says he's on the mend.
"I've spoken to the officer involved, and he's recovering at home. We're grateful he's survived, but he knows the road to recovery will be tough."