Library protesters demand immediate changes to 'invasive, humiliating' security measures
More than 200 people come together for 'read-in' at Millennium Library
Opponents of recently introduced security measures at Winnipeg's downtown Millennium Library sat on the floor and read books Tuesday evening to peacefully protest what they believe are invasive and detrimental procedures.
"Access to libraries are important to everybody. I worry that if we start making barriers and barricades that it will prevent people who need to be here from coming," said Jaret Olford, one of more than 200 people who took part in the "read-in" on the floor of the main lobby before the security entrance.
"It's a public place, it should be open to the public."
Olford frequents the library a handful times a week, and was stunned when new safety measures were announced.
"There was no consultation, it just happened, it was rolled out," he said.
The city and library management introduced bag checks and the use of hand-held metal detectors on Feb. 25.
According to library manager Ed Cuddy, the goal was to crack down on the increase in the number of serious violent incidents and threats over the past year.
The focus of the new initiatives is to also try to eliminate items that are prohibited from the library, such as alcohol and weapons, from entering the premises.
While Olford understands the need for security and banning prohibited items, he feels that the new procedures are invasive and violate his privacy.
"I might have things in my backpack that I don't want them going through, it might be my prescriptions, it might be anything. I don't want to be embarrassed," he said.
Olford sometimes carries a multi-tool that includes a knife, tweezers and other tools for general use, but that leaves him in a predicament when trying to enter the library.
"If they find that I have a jackknife, or Swiss Army knife on me because that's something that I carry, am I going to be denied entry?" he asked.
"I don't know where that line is, and I don't really want to go through that and be publicly humiliated or get into trouble with the law."
Most protesters who participated in the read-in were against the beefed-up security measures, but not everyone at the library Tuesday evening felt the same way.
"If it makes the employees and staff feel good about coming to the workplace, I don't see a problem," said Keenon Rhodes.
While concern for staff has been mentioned by management, it's not cited as one of the major reason why the changes were made.
Rhodes, who comes to the library on a near-daily basis agreed that more security can be invasive, but said the safety of visitors and staff is what matters.
"It acts more as a deterrent, people will walk in, see the security, and if they're coming in here with the intentions of doing something malicious, they'll turn around.," he said.
"Anyone coming in here without malicious intent will walk on through."
On the other hand, Olford feels that more and more security could take Winnipeg down a draconian path.
"There's a line that's scary, and that's crossing into the police state. I don't want to be subject to seizures and searches," he said.
"There's certainly the chance of profiling to take place."
Open lines of communication
Much to the displeasure of Sarah Broad, who organized the protest, the security measures were announced without public input, and she wants them gone immediately.
"We're asking that they stop the extra measures and we can find funding for extra social safety nets," she said.
"This has to end as soon as possible."
Broad is a part of Millennium For All, a group which has laid out demands they'd like to see met by the library board to resolve issues. These include cancelling the new security measures, funding social services and support at the library, meeting with community members starting June 1 and changing library policy to help marginalized people.
"We're seeing these security measures and they're excluding some members of our community, some of them who can't go anywhere it costs money," she said.
"We need places where people can be, and be freely."
Representatives from the Millennium For All group gave a presentation to the Winnipeg Public Library Board later in the day.
- An earlier version of this story said that Jaret Olford carries a knife for protection. In fact, he later clarified that he carries the Swiss Army knife for practical purposes, not for protection.Apr 03, 2019 5:20 PM CT