Manitoba

Winnipeg community groups share concerns about security screening at Millennium Library

Representatives from 13 community organizations met Tuesday to talk about how about new screening measures at the Millennium Library are affecting vulnerable Winnipeggers.

Mandatory bag checks, metal detectors implemented at downtown public library in February

Guards search bags and use metal detectors on visitors entering the Millennium Library. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Representatives from 13 community organizations met Tuesday to talk about how about new screening measures at the Millennium Library are affecting vulnerable Winnipeggers.

The interagency meeting was called to discuss the security measures including mandatory bag checks and metal detectors at the downtown library, implemented in February.

Critics of the measures have said they're a barrier to access for many who need the library most. 

"They are not necessarily being turned away, but you don't necessarily want to go if you're living on the street and you carry all your items with you," said Len David, co-manager of West End 24-Hour Safe Space, on Tuesday.

"You are expected to hand over nail files, weapons that are used for your security living on the street, being searched. I had one youth who had clean needles on them, and they were taken away. … What does that say to someone who is trying to reduce the harm in their life by using clean needles?"

David was one of 18 people at the Tuesday meeting, which included representatives from groups throughout West Broadway, the West End and central Winnipeg.

Kristen Wiltshire, youth and families director at the Spence Neighbourhood Association, said there was consensus at the table the measures could alienate people.

"A lot of us work in poverty reduction and people that carry bags with their whole lives on their backs face a barrier immediately, by not having a place to put their items," she said. "As well as people that have anxiety or might come as newcomers to the library who have a history of trauma with … screening measures such as this."

Harm-reduction approach proposed

The group floated ideas including having a "knowledge keeper" on-staff to deal with trauma situations, and embracing a harm-reduction approach to security measures instead of screening.

In the past, library services manager Ed Cuddy has said decision to increase security was related to an increase in violent incidents where people who are "intoxicated or using other substances" have threatened staff and security.

The City of Winnipeg has said Library Services people are still able to take shelter from extreme temperatures in the front lobby area, the spokesperson said, and the library has two community crisis workers on hand to help people in need.

Going forward, Wiltshire said the group wants to see more consultation from the city with community members.

"Whether or not it's actually going through the security measures … it's a barrier, and it reduces that person's access to a space that is for everyone in the city."

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