Fed up with 'brazen' liquor mart thefts, employees' union wants security, safety improved

A rash of thefts from Manitoba liquor marts has the union for employees on a mission to put a cork in it, and also make sure staff and the public are better protected.

Suggestion include putting a police officer in every store, giving security guards more authority

Police say there have been 1,277 reported thefts from liquor stores in Winnipeg this year. (Submitted by Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries)

A rash of thefts from Manitoba liquor marts has the union for employees on a mission to put a cork in it, and also make sure staff and the public are better protected.

"It's very, very concerning [but] it's not anything new. It's now come to light," said Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union.

"But we're really alarmed by the brazen nature of the recent robberies. Now people are just walking in, helping themselves and walking out … and our members almost feel like they've got a bigger target on their back because people are doing it even more."

Gawronsky is meeting with Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries officials next week to come up with some solutions, or at least some ideas.

"With the opioid addicition, with the meth that's out there … violence is starting to trump up everywhere — whether liquor stores, hospitals, correction facilities — it's just getting worse and worse. It's time now they start putting safety measures in place," she said.

"I want to sit down with them and explain some of the ideas our members have and then my request to them is going to be that they sit down and listen to our members that work in the stores, the members who can tell them how to improve things, how they can make it safer."

Give guards more power

Gawronsky wants to invite the police to be involved in the discussions about what changes can be made and if there is a role they can play.

She suggested a police officer in every store "would definitely deter things."

Failing that, she suggests security guards be given more authority. A number of years ago, the province stripped the peace officer status from those guards, which effectively removed much of their clout.

"They need to reverse that and bring it back. That would help to keep our liquor stores and our hospitals much, much safer," Gawronsky said.

Some liquor stores in Ontario have started using security lock on bottles to deter theft. (Jon Castell)

She has also been in contact with unions in other provinces to see what is being done in their stores, such as in Ontario where bottle locks are used, similar to the tags put on clothing to prevent theft from retailers.

"It is important we draw on their ideas and experiences with this problem. It isn't isolated to Manitoba, we know that," Gawronsky said.

Last week, Winnipeg Police Service spokesman ​Const. Jay Murray said there have been 1,277 reported thefts from liquor stores in the city this year.

What we have been experiencing recently has been a completely different type of scenario. These criminals are brazen and dangerous when confronted.- Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries

Three days later, police reported the arrest of three boys, aged 14, 15 and 17, who robbed a liquor mart at gunpoint. The gun turned out to be a fake, but it's not a gamble MLL wants its staff or security guards to take.

"No price is worth anyone being seriously hurt over a bottle of spirits," the MLL stated in a news release last week, noting that annual gross sales are just over $400 million and the loss from thefts is 0.13 per cent of that — or just over $500,000.

Security guards at liquor marts are trained to detect and deter theft by approaching people they think may be stealing, speak with them and discourage them from leaving the store with the product, the MLL release said.

Such a policy of non-violent crisis intervention is successful with the traditional shoplifter, things have changed, the MLL admits.

"What we have been experiencing recently has been a completely different type of scenario. These criminals are brazen and dangerous when confronted," the release states.

Gawronsky agreed with that, saying, "it's a bottle of booze. It's not worth them getting hurt, it's not worth their lives."

However, she said she's worried the problem will increase now that more people realize that security guards cannot stop them.

The union representing liquor mart staff has suggested putting a police officer in every store or giving security guards more authority. (Google Street View)

And it's not just a Winnipeg problem. Gawronsky is winding down a tour of liquor marts across the province and has heard stories of bold thefts in stores from The Pas right down to Brandon.

The MLL in its release said safety and security of employees and customers the No. 1 priority and one of the reasons it doesn't want staff or security personnel involved in stopping thefts is because the cameras in the stores get extremely high-quality images of everyone who enters and exits.

"We employ state of the art security equipment that captures high definition images from all angles, and our surveillance and security department works seven days a week diligently investigating and reporting incidents."

Const. Murray said those images "rival the best of what we have in Winnipeg" and make it inevitable the thieves will get caught.

With files from Jillian Taylor


Darren Bernhardt


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories and features. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent. Story idea? Email:


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