The Current

No 'quick fix' for what's driving spate of Winnipeg liquor store thefts, expert says

Videos of brazen liquor store thefts in Winnipeg have been circulating online. We speak to staff in the line of fire — who say they’ve seen thieves with guns, knives, pipes and machetes — and ask what can be done about it.

Videos of brazen liquor store thefts in Manitoba and other provinces circulating online

A still image from a video shows 5 teenage girls who were arrested in Winnipeg after attempting to steal liquor in September. (XFLAllStar/Reddit)
Listen16:32

Read Story Transcript

The condemnation of brazen thefts at Manitoba liquor stores is perfectly understandable, but an expert in criminal justice says it fails to address what might be driving the robberies.

"The question of why ... people would decide to put themselves in the vulnerable position of engaging in a liquor store theft should also cause us to pause and think," said Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg.

"These are people who have decided that they have more to gain from taking something from the liquor store — and potentially getting caught — than they have to lose," she told The Current.

The Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation says its stores, including 40 locations in Winnipeg, are experiencing hundreds of thefts a week.

Similar robberies have also occurred in other provinces.

Videos showing groups spread out through the aisles of stores, speedily emptying shelves into duffel bags, have circulated online and gained public attention.

Liquor stores in this province are getting robbed hundreds of times a week, only months after Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries unveiled a strategy to reduce the incidence of theft. 2:02

Dobchuk-Land has witnessed three robberies in the past year.

"There is clearly a particular expression of both frustration and thrill-seeking happening in this moment, and it's clearly striking a chord with the public," she said.

But she thinks we need to look beyond what she sees as an "intense amount of outrage being directed at poor people."

"We're not as mad that poor people are so poor that they can't survive, that they're starving to death, that they're freezing to death, that they don't have homes, that they're being pushed out of public spaces," she said.

Staff threatened with guns, knives, pipes

In a statement, Winnipeg Police told The Current that "the rise of property crime as a whole can be partly attributed to the use of methamphetamine, or other addictive substances such as alcohol. 

"But there are also other social problems that may be driving the increase," the statement added.

The police have urged staff and customers to avoid confronting thieves when a robbery takes place, for their own safety. 

According to the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation, stores are experiencing hundreds of thefts a week. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Leo Dame, a recently retired Manitoba liquor store worker, didn't try to stop a thief in his store, but almost bumped into him as the man rushed out the door with a basket of stolen goods. 

"He pulled a knife from his waist and had it up close to my throat with within a fraction of a second," he said.

Dame has seen thieves threaten staff with weapons like guns, knives, pipes, and machetes.

"In the store itself, there are thousands of glass bottles on the shelves — and many times they have been picked up, thrown at us," he added.

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries spokesperson Andrea Kowal said that their priority is "to keep our staff and our customers safe."

Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries director of corporate and public affairs Andrea Kowal speaks to media about theft at a news conference on Monday, Oct. 28. 1:18

Right now it's the bottles of alcohol that are at risk, she said, but "as soon as customers intervene, or staff intervene, we have humans at risk."

Stores have hired extra security personnel and installed video security systems as the thefts became more frequent. There has been discussion — ultimately rejected — of moving the alcohol out of reach behind a counter.

Dobchuk-Land said a crackdown may not be the solution.

"While I recognize that it's a highly stressful situation, I would say that the stress isn't going to be resolved through the intensification of policing or the barricading of liquor marts," she said. 

"The truth of the matter is that there's not a quick fix to these types of problems."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Suzanne Dufresne.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.