Liquor store workers victims of violent drug-user rampages

Five days out of detox, Travis Veilleux is still waiting for an available bed at one of Winnipeg’s addictions treatment facilities. (Kim Kaschor)

WORK IS A NOW A COMBAT ZONE FOR TOO MANY IN MANITOBA. Liquor store thefts have made workers in the stores the latest casualties in the war on illegal drug use in Manitoba.

Brazen daylight, smash-and-grab style robberies in Manitoba stores have skyrocketed in the last year. Liquor stores are a favourite target. Authorities believe the thieves are stealing to get things they can sell to get the cash they need to buy drugs. Videos of the robberies become instant hits on the internet.

Union calls for a “summit’

Video of a liquor store robbery at the Tyndall Park Liquor Mart November 20 shows a hooded assailant, accompanied by a second person holding a weapon, yelling and pushing a security guard, before yelling at a female employee behind the counter. The assailant then comes behind the counter, still yelling at the woman. He then punches her in the head. The woman falls to the ground. She was later sent to hospital.

People in the mall say the attackers assaulted two women and another man in the shopping centre after leaving the Liquor Mart. The women took shelter in an office. Another shopper intervened to hold back one of the attackers until police arrived.

“This situation is completely out of control, not just in our Liquor Marts, but also in private retail stores, too,” said Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union.

“We welcome the Secure Entrance Initiative from Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, but this crisis is bigger than Liquor Marts. This is a Manitoba crisis that calls for urgent provincial leadership.

“We are appealing to the province to bring all the key players in our community to the table. We need an urgent summit of law enforcement, addictions and social services, public and private retailers, unions, and the provincial government.

“It’s going to take all of us working together to get this crisis under control.”

Meth addiction only a symptom

The Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) reports a current average of 10 to 20 liquor store robberies per day. The police believe this upsurge is largely driven by the increased use of meth.

Meth is an extremely addictive drug that often causes users to engage in aggressive or compulsive behaviour. When someone is caught up in meth addiction they will often do anything and everything to get money to feed their addiction and survive.

So far, authorities in Manitoba have responded with a “first things first” approach: protecting the public from harm, pursing, arresting and convicting the thieves.

WPS Const. Ron Carver said during the news conference that hundreds of people have been arrested over the last few months in connection with liquor store robberies. One person arrested was linked to 106 incidents and another was responsible for 47.

“We’re making arrests every single day,” said Carver.

Deeper understanding, more care

However, community leaders, like Michelle Gawronsky, know something more comprehensive is needed. They know something must be done to help people to free themselves from their addictions. And, they know the final solution will only come by dealing with whatever drives so many people to seek out drugs in the first place.

The experts are clear on what will help most with the drug use issue. A 2014 review of 75 studies found that supervised consumption sites lower the rate of overdoses, public injections and dropped needles while improving access to healthcare.

These types of harm reduction practices are an integral component of any addiction treatment strategy.

Such a strategy must also include governments working together to provide safe consumption sites, along with the necessary supportive services where people can go to detox, seek immediate treatment and receive long-term counselling and emotional support.

Pallister pretends everything is fine

Premier Brian Pallister chooses to either run from, or deny, the data that show the reality of the drug crisis in Manitoba

Manitoba got $4.1 million from the federal government in December 2018 to help the province fund addictions treatment programs. Pallister has yet to use the money.

Should we ever do all that is needed to control illegal drug use, we will still face a far greater task: we will still have to identify and eliminate the root of problem; we will still have to answer the question: Why do so many people turn to drugs to begin with?

Obvious answers come easily to mind. But, as is so often the case with those who have taken charge of all our public affairs, they have neither the desire nor the will to see things as they really are. When that happens, there is nothing so mystifying as the obvious.


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