Thefts at LCBO stores on the rise in Ottawa

Thefts at LCBO locations in Ottawa are on the rise, police say, and one business owner believes a specific policy for staff is making the stores easy targets.

LCBO policy instructing staff not to intervene when they see thefts partly to blame, shop owner says

Ottawa police say thefts at LCBO stores in the capital are on the rise. (Maggie Macintosh/CBC)

Thefts at LCBO locations in Ottawa are on the rise, police say, and one business owner believes a specific policy for staff is making the stores easy targets.

Ottawa police won't say by how much LCBO thefts in the capital have increased.

Insp. Tim Hodgins would only say, "We have noticed an upward trend."

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents liquor store employees, told CBC News in March that province-wide, the LCBO lost about $77 million due to theft in 2018.

LCBO staff don't get involved

OPSEU's liquor board employees division chair, Jennifer Van Zetten, said staff are trained not to intervene when they witness a theft. 

"We wouldn't want them to put themselves in harm's way," she said.

Karen Nielsen, a former social worker who owns HighJinx — a second-hand store in Centretown that doubles as a hub for low-income and homeless people in the area — said that policy makes LCBO stores easy marks.

She has worked with some people who've been charged with these types of thefts.

"[The LCBO has] a company policy that they don't get involved, and that is for safety reasons, which I totally support," Nielsen said. "But people know that, so it's an easy target."

Police working with retailers

Hodgins said the force's goal is to reduce retail thefts, but non-violent offences like thefts don't get the same attention that violent offences do.

"Gun violence is a very significant trend in this city, like other metropolitan centres, so that trickles down, and the prioritization of offences that are non-violent receive the appropriate level of resources," he said.

Nevertheless, he said police are working with community partners, including retailers, on the problem.

Nielsen said the LCBO, and not police, should be responsible for deterring thefts.

"I think if [the LCBO] could prevent these thefts ... from happening then we wouldn't have to follow up with them through the police and that would save major resources for our city, which we could use for more community police officers," she said.

Increasing security

In a statement to CBC, the LCBO said it's increasing security at select locations by implementing "industry-leading technology" and providing staff with mandatory training.

The provincial Crown corporation has hired 3 Sixty Risk Solutions Ltd., based in Almonte, Ont., to provide security at its stores in the northern, eastern and western regions of the province.

The company currently provides security services in the cannabis sector.

In July, a health and safety subcommittee was formed of LCBO staff and union members to discuss staffing issues and customer safety, Van Zetten said.

"We are working together in the sense of making sure that our folks, within the stores as well as our communities, are safe while they shop at the LCBO," she said.