Critics of Millennium library security measures demand changes ahead of public report
Advocacy group wants security measures eliminated, library to focus on becoming community hub
At the top of their voices, a couple dozen protesters took turns reading out passages from their favourite books on the steps of city hall Tuesday afternoon to demonstrate against security measures that have been in place at the Millennium Library for the last few months.
"At first I was furious, I'm still angry, this has just dragged on and on and they've had the [security] measures up, but I don't know if it's actually making people safer," said Sarah Broad, one of the organizers at Millennium For All, a group of concerned citizens who oppose the security measures.
The passages read may have ranged from Martin Luther King Jr. to children's books, but the message was clear — remove the bag checks and become a community space for people of all classes.
Broad and Millennium For All have spoke out against the security measures which include bag checks and handheld metal detectors since they went into place late in February.
Last month, the group held a silent 'read-in' event in the lobby of the library near the screening area.
Library management originally instituted the policy to crack down on the the rise of serious violent incidents and threats which they said had increased by 75 per cent since 2013.
Kids with their parents aren't screened, but all youth over age 13 are.
People with prohibited items have to remove them before heading into the library, and those who decline the screening are not allowed in.
Over the last few years, library management said it consulted with community organizations, hired two crisis workers and met with staff and union representatives to try to find solutions, but decided the security screening was needed.
The group said while other Canadian cities are offering more social services it seems to them Winnipeg was taking a step backwards by imposing the security screenings.
"We have seen other libraries turn themselves into community hubs, places like Calgary, Halifax, Thunder Bay, they've done different things and housed services to meet the needs that are coming in," she said.
Report to be heard at city hall
The demonstration was held in advance of verbal report being delivered by the city's public services staff on Wednesday morning to the Standing Policy Committee on Protection, Community Services and Parks on alternative safety measures that are being used at public places across Canada.
For some, the security measures have become a rallying point to show solidarity with marginalized communities they feel are being unfairly targeted.
"It's more than just getting into the library, it's about accessing services and feeling safe, I really fear that the most vulnerable are the ones who will feel unsafe because of this," said Jennifer Still, a former writer-in-residence at the library.
During her tenure working at Millennium Library, Still said she never heard concerns from staff or felt a lack of safety at any time.
"It felt like a very open space … it never felt like there was anything happening that wasn't being addressed," she said.
In her time at the library, Still said she worked with people who if these same policies had been in place then, it would have affected them in getting help.
"I know a lot of the people I met with and talked to about their writing would not have come because of their situation to the library if there had been security measures," she said.
Still refuses to visit the Millennium Library and said she doesn't want to subject her two kids, 16 and 12 to have to be searched for no reason.
"I haven't been to the library since the security measures, I have not brought my children because I don't want them to have to go through that," she said.
The group has faced criticism online with many people pointing out bag checks and heightened security are becoming more commonplace, citing concerts and sporting events as examples, but Still doesn't believe the scenarios are the same.
"The library isn't for the privileged, sporting events are for the privileged, entertainment events are for the privileged, the library is for everyone," she said.
Wendy Boyd has lived in Winnipeg for 20 years and said she continues to frequent the library, even if it means having to stand in line. She said she's become friendly with the security guards who search her bags on a weekly basis.
"I'm a well-off, retired person, I have time, but people who don't have time or maybe not as comfortable with people in positions of power will be intimidated and won't come use the space," she said.
While library management never sought feedback from the public on the changes, Boyd feels it's not too late.
"It just seems to me that this is a wrongheaded way about going about it, so I would like to see them really consider taking all the security out and coming up with an alternative plan," said Boyd.