Manitoba

'We have to have some feeling of security': Liquor Mart employee says staff stressed by thefts, robberies

The growing number of thefts and robberies in stores is having a serious impact on the well-being of staff, says one Winnipeg Liquor Mart worker. Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries says that's something it's working to address.
Manitoba Liqour & Lotteries said it's trying various initiatives to help curb Liqour Mart thefts. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A Manitoba Liquor Mart employee says the growing number of thefts and robberies in stores is seriously affecting the well-being of staff — a problem Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries says it's working to address.

The employee, whom CBC News has agreed not to identify to avoid putting his job at risk, said it has come to the point where it's not a question of whether a theft or robbery will occur — but when.

"They've smashed showcases and emptied them," he said. "They've emptied entire displays. It is beyond one's imagination what they're actually doing at liquor stores."

The long-time employee said thieves have filled hockey or duffel bags before walking out. He said at times, staff have been threatened with weapons including knives and pepper spray. In some cases, thieves have picked up bottles and used them as weapons too.

"There's circumstances here that are scaring everybody," he said. "You break a bottle in a liquor store and I can tell you right now that three or four staff members start getting shaky right away, even if it's accidental."

Theft reports up 300%

A rash of thefts and robberies in Manitoba Liquor Marts has been widely reported in recent months. 

In 2017, there were approximately 658 theft incidents in Manitoba Liquor Marts reported to Winnipeg police, according to numbers MLL provided last month. In 2018, the number jumped to 2,602 — a spike of nearly 300 per cent.

The employee said he decided to come forward because he's seen the mental health of colleagues — as well as his own — deteriorate.

"We are seeing all kinds of issues, from high stress levels to anxiety to anger to depression," he said. 

Numbers provided by MLL showed in 2017, there were approximately 658 theft incidents in Manitoba Liquor Marts reported to Winnipeg police. In 2018, the number jumped to 2,602. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A spokesperson for Liquor & Lotteries said the Crown corporation is aware of the toll robberies and thefts are taking on staff. 

"We absolutely have empathy and understanding for this," said Andrea Kowal, MLL's director of communications and corporate affairs. "These incidents, some of them can be very traumatic." 

Kowal said out of about 1,000 Manitoba Liquor Mart employees, about a dozen people took leave related to incidents involving theft or robbery in stores in 2018. About four employees are off right now. 

She said Liquor & Lotteries has resources in place to address the needs of staff, including on-site trauma support when a serious incident happens and counselling for employees and their families. The corporation has also increased the number of staff meetings. 

'They are not getting away with it'

She said MLL is looking at ways to deter thefts, but emphasizes that staff and customers should not intervene when an incident is taking place. 

"These thieves and these robberies are just too risky," she said. "No one's life or personal safety is worth a single bottle, or even a whole case of alcohol." 

Still, Kowal said there have been 85 arrests involving Liquor Mart incidents since the fall.

"We absolutely understand how frustrating it is because … probably some staff people feel, and we've certainly seen that some customers feel, that these people are getting away with it," said Kowal.

"They are not getting away with it."

Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries says it's exploring new security initiatives to curb thefts and keep staff safe, a spokesperson says. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Kowal said Liquor & Lotteries uses state-of-the-art surveillance and new security measures are being explored. 

At one point last month, Liquor & Lotteries hired special duty Winnipeg police officers — officers who are not on regular duty and can be contracted by a business — to work in some locations.

MLL plans to announce other security initiatives it's trying later this week, Kowal said.

The employee who came forward said having police in some locations offered "very, very minor relief, but it was relief [all] the same."

But he continues to worry about the safety of staff and customers. He'd like to see security in stores ramped up. 

"We have to have some feeling of security."

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