Manitoba

Security to remain at Millennium Library, despite 'shush-in,' protest

Security screening will continue Millennium Library despite a protest by nearly 50 critics who say the airport-like security discourages some people from using the downtown library.

City committee votes to ask province for more library funding

Protesters critical of airport-like security measures at Millennium Library held a "shush-in" Monday. Signs saying "shhhhame" were held when people spoke in favour of the security screening measures during the standing policy committee on protection, community services and parks meeting. (Wendy Buelow/CBC)

Security screening will continue Millennium Library despite a protest by nearly 50 critics who say the airport-like security discourages some people from using the downtown library. 

Members of Millennium for All, a group of volunteers including academics, activists and more, held a "shush-in" Monday at the standing policy committee on protection, community services and parks to advocate the committee remove the security screening process. 

They held signs saying "shhhhame" every time people spoke in favour of the security measures. 

The protestors say mandatory bag checks and metal detectors installed in February don't improve safety and only result in falling attendance.

"Personally if some people are not welcome at Millennium, I don't feel welcome there myself," said Winnipeg musician John K. Samson, a member of Millennium for All and regular library user.

"The new barriers at Millennium are more than just physical," Samson told the committee. "Because of the classist, racialized, ableist and gendered nature of security and policing, they exclude some people at the outset."

City officials maintain the security measures help keep the library safer and have reduced violent incidents; however, Ed Cuddy, manager of Library Services, said if there is funding support for more crisis workers and other investments in the library, he would consider removing the security barriers. 

"[The security screening] was done at a point when we were really facing al lot of challenging incidents and staff safety was threatened," said Cuddy after Monday's meeting.

"If we just stopped right now and we had a bunch of incidents that required the province to come in and investigate because there was serious harm done, then we could lose our certification." 

Province owes more library funds: chair

Coun. Sherri Rollins, chair of the standing policy committee on protection, community services and parks, passed a motion Monday asking the province to reinstate a formula under the Public Libraries Act and chip in more funding for libraries. 

The city is owed roughly $1.6 million this year, she said, and the money could help improve safety at the downtown library, according to Rollins.

The committee also voted in favour of a host of new programming and investments, including creating a community-led cultural provider program in Millennium Library, training staff in non-violent crisis intervention and creating a new space for crisis workers in the lobby. All the recommendations are dependent on the 2020 budget process and its approval by council. 

"What the committee has to do now is go into that multi-year budget with that in mind," Rollins said. 

The committee did not vote in favour of enhancing the existing security measures at the library which city staff had recommended, Rollins said.

Security screening by guards started at Winnipeg's Millennium Library on Feb. 25. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Millennium for All has maintained the mandatory bag checks and metal detectors sweeps that greet library visitors at the door are "security theatre" and don't prevent assaults at the library. They have said the measures disproportionately affect the homeless and deter other vulnerable groups from entering.

"The consequences of the Millennium Library security screening policy could not be more stark: a robust, diverse public space that welcomes all community members' leadership and attendance or a locked down, under-utilized, under-resourced library. Nothing could be safer than an empty building, yet nothing could be further from the mission of a public library," reads a conclusion from a Millennium for All report presented at the committee Monday.

A CBC News analysis of security incident data at the library between January 2018 and March 2019 found only one incident of assault where a weapon was used.

Management with the library submitted a report last week to the city's protection, community services and parks committee that suggested serious incidents tracked at the library were down 64.8 per cent. There were 230 incidents between November 2018 and February 2019, before the measures were implemented, compared to 81 incidents from February to June.

The report also showed a roughly 25 per cent drop in serious incidents from January to June 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. The 2019 figures include incidents from before security measures were implemented in late February.

Serious incidents at the library include assault, harassment, threats, intoxication and verbal abuse.

The same report contained data showing attendance at the library dropped by about 272,000, or 32 per cent, between January and June of 2019, compared to the same period last year. (Attendance tracking technology was down for two weeks during renovations, so the true drop is closer to 25 per cent, according to the city.)

"It is likely that at least 25 per cent of the decline reflects some of the public's reaction to the introduction of screening measures," a city spokesperson said via email last week.

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