Manitoba

Government phones, vehicles, laptop stolen during meth-fuelled string of break-and-enters

A provincial government building that houses a security centre was ransacked multiple times by thieves who stole several government phones, a laptop and three vehicles during a meth-fuelled crime spree.

Stolen swipe card used to gain access to downtown Manitoba Housing office

This building was targeted in August by thieves, who used a stolen employee swipe card to get in. They stole government phones, three vehicles and employee belongings. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

A provincial government building that houses a security centre was ransacked multiple times by thieves who stole several government phones, a laptop and three vehicles during a meth-fuelled crime spree.

The break-ins happened during Aug. 4 to Aug.6 last summer at 352 Donald St. in downtown Winnipeg. The building houses several government departments including Justice and Indigenous Relations. It's also home to the Manitoba Housing security communications centre.

A woman, who was 23 at the time, along with others who were never caught, gained access to the building after the woman stole her ex-boyfriend's employee swipe card to the Manitoba Housing office where he worked.

Her ex had a protection order against her but the two broke it when they met up at the New Lodge hotel on Notre Dame where she stole the access card.

Once the group got inside the building they stole "pretty much basically anything that isn't bolted down," Crown attorney Jeff Nichols said at a sentencing hearing in the fall for the woman, who is now 24.

Multiple provincial government departments have offices inside 352 Donald St. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The list of stolen property is extensive and included three vehicles, several government phones, as well as a government laptop. The thieves even helped themselves to snacks that were later reported missing by an employee. The items were stolen during multiple trips to the building over that long weekend.

"It's certainly aggravating in terms of the multiple opportunities to enter and illegally take items that you have no right to," Nichols said.

Internal documents obtained by CBC News list about 70 different items employees reported as missing from the office.

Estimated $11K in stolen property

The documents, obtained through a freedom of information request, are heavily redacted but list an estimated $11,000 in stolen property. Of that, Nichols told the court an estimated $1,000 in employee belongings were taken, including running shoes, earrings, a Nike sports bag and hand sanitizer.

The woman who led the break-and-enters had serious issues with meth, which factored in heavily at the time of the thefts, court heard.

An employee who went to work on the morning of Aug. 7 discovered the break-in that had happened over the long weekend. Government employees who came to work that day had to stay away from their desks as a Winnipeg police forensics team worked to gather fingerprint evidence.

Employees were encouraged to speak to their supervisor if they were experiencing anxiety because of the incident.

"What about the loss of innocence and my feelings of safety? There is no price…" said one manager in an email to the chief operating officer of Manitoba Housing.

Caught on surveillance video

Winnipeg police detectives quickly identified the primary thief after reviewing surveillance video. Officers arrested her after they pulled over a stolen Ford F-150, which she was driving erratically. Police charged her with operating a stolen vehicle, five counts of break-and-enter, fraudulent use of a credit card and breaking a protection order.

In a joint recommendation, the Crown and defence asked provincial court Judge Ryan Rolston for a sentence of six months of total jail time. Defence lawyer Aaron Braun said his client committed the crimes during a meth-fuelled weekend.

Three vehicles were stolen in the break-and-enter. Several government vehicles are kept in a parking lot outside beside the building. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"She just says that was a blur. She was high, not sleeping for days, and the whole weekend was a blur," Braun said. He told the court his client's big trouble with the law started in 2016, when she hit rock bottom after she started using meth.

Braun said his client suffered from an addiction to alcohol and when meth hit her community of Oxford House First Nation, her life went downhill. 

Braun told the court his client's father passed away when she was very young and her mom had an addiction to alcohol.

He said his client spent time in and out of the child welfare system, which her own son is now in. He said the time behind bars would give his client the chance to sober up and get her life back on track.

"She has every motivation to get better," he said.

Meth fallout on city being felt: judge

The woman told the court she accepted full responsibility for her actions and was sorry for committing the crimes, which she pleaded guilty to. 

Rolston said only time would tell if that was true and said the break-and-enters were yet another example of the impact meth use is having on Winnipeg.

"The addiction to methamphetamine these days in this city, you see the fallout all the time."

The judge said he worried if the woman was released from custody too soon, she would be back to square one.

"You have to make a decision … that you're not going to get yourself back into that position. That means staying sober and clean from the drugs," Rolston said, while acknowledging that would be very difficult for someone battling an addiction.

Government says no personal information compromised 

Rolston said he was satisfied with the joint recommendation, which saw the five break-and-enter charges reduced to just one. That was in addition to the charges of possession of stolen property and breach of a protection order. With time already served, the woman was sentenced to 93 days behind bars for the crimes. She was ordered to stay away from her ex, as well as a Manitoba Housing employee.

She must also attend counselling and stay away from the government building.

A spokesperson for the province said the electronics that were stolen and never recovered were password-protected with encryption, and no client information was stored on the devices.

A provincial government building that houses a security centre was ransacked multiple times by thieves who stole several government phones, a laptop and three vehicles during a meth-fuelled crime spree. 1:33

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca