Manitoba

Liquor store employees 'under siege' with violence, theft, former worker says

A retired liquor store employee says Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries has dragged its feet on addressing theft and violence in its stores for too long, and it’s only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt, or worse. 

Leo Dame says he's worried someone is going to get killed if nothing changes

Leo Dame worked for Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries for 30 years. He says violence is becoming an all too common part of the job for liquor store employees. (Karen Pauls/CBC )

A retired liquor store employee says Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries has dragged its feet on addressing theft and violence in its stores for too long, and it's only a matter of time before someone gets serious hurt, or worse. 

The epidemic of liquor store thefts in Manitoba reached a critical stage Wednesday, after employees were assaulted in an unprovoked attack at the Tyndall Park Liquor Mart in Winnipeg.

Three different women were punched in the head or face in the Wednesday incident, police said, including two Liquor Mart employees. One was knocked unconscious and sent to hospital in critical condition, where her condition was later upgraded to stable.

Leo Dame worked at that very liquor store up until two months ago, and knows the employees who were assaulted.

That level of violence is becoming an all too common part of the job for liquor store employees, he said. 

"They are under siege and these people need help," he said. 

"It can happen every day. It could be multiple times a day.... There are less and less days where you had a work shift without an incident."

'Incredibly frustrating situations' 

That was a major factor in his decision to leave the job after 30 years as a Liquor & Lotteries employee. He said he knew he couldn't just stand by while his co-workers were being verbally or physically assaulted, and it was going to get him in trouble. 

"I fully understand not wanting to get involved and not wanting to get hurt, not wanting to put yourself in that situation, but some of us just can't stand there and watch this stuff. At least, I can't," he said.

"There are incredibly frustrating situations taking place in liquor stores … like, 10:30 in the morning, I could have already been yelled at, kicked — which wouldn't be considered, you know, extreme by any stretch of the imagination."

Watch the video of the Tyndall Park robbery:

In a video obtained by CBC News, two people with their faces partially covered can be seen assaulting three employees at the Tyndall Park Liquor Mart on Keewatin Street and Burrows Avenue. 0:41

He said he saw acts of theft becoming more brazen, and they were sometimes committed by people as young as 12. 

It was disappointing to see, he said, while working for a corporation "whose sole responsibility is to sell alcohol in a socially responsible manner."

"And I don't know how they think they're doing that when children are walking in and taking alcohol."

Dame says he feels like Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries hasn't acted swiftly enough to stop these kind of thefts, and make their employees, and customers, feel safe. 

"We feel very strongly that this management has dragged its feet on these issues for a long time here now, and allowed this to fester into what it's festered into," he said. 

Tougher security needed 

At a Wednesday night press conference addressing the Tyndall Park incident, Manny Atwal, president and CEO of Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, said construction is underway at the Tyndall Park location on a secure entrance. That means the store will be locked, and customers will have to show valid photo ID at a security station before being allowed inside.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries said the Crown corporation was not doing interviews Thursday, but in a statement said all Winnipeg Liquor Marts will be retrofitted with controlled entrances in the coming weeks and months. 

Dame said it's a step in the right direction, but thinks the problem will remain until tougher security is in place at all liquor stores. 

I'm begging this company to take a serious look at this. Stop this now.- Leo Dame, former Liquor Mart employee 

"I think they've already seen that when the police were in some of these stores, [thieves] just dispersed to the other stores," he said. 

"With technology today, they're as quick as lightning." 

Dame says he's worried someone is going to get killed if the problem isn't addressed.

"So I'm begging this company to take a serious look at this. Stop this now. We are about to head into our busiest season ever, and it's vital that these employees feel some sort of safety or security while they're working."

Incidents 'offensive to all of us': premier

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Premier Brian Pallister said the government has already undertaken a number of initiatives to improve security in Manitoba liquor stores — not all of which may be obvious.

"Security works better when it's not entirely in the public eye, so let's be clear about that," he said. 

But he acknowledged more needs to be done. 

"And we're focused on doing more. Because it is just hurtful to every Manitoban to see someone hurt in their place of work," the premier said.

"This is offensive to all of us. It's offensive to everyone who respects law and order and respects public safety, and it's gone on for too long."

With files from Karen Pauls and Austin Grabish

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