Thefts Expose Soft Underbelly of MLL Leadership

WPS PIO Constable Jay Murray (Photo JGJ)

The recent arrest of a sixteen-year-old habitual offender has exposed what many are calling a colossal failure of the leadership at Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries (MLL) to develop effective policies & procedures that protect the corporation’s employees, customers and assets.

On August 31, 2018, the Winnipeg Police Service held a press conference announcing the arrest of a young offender responsible for a total of 23 thefts at MLL Stores where liquor in the amount of $11,275 was stolen.

These were brazen thefts.

“They literally pelted him with liquor bottles, anything they could grab, even as he backed off, he continued to be hit with these bottles.”

The suspects entered the Liquor Marts, concealed their faces and went about filling carts with “copious” amounts of liquor.

On August 24, 2018, the youth and his crew attended a Liquor Mart in the 400 block of North Town Road where they continued their crime spree, concealing their faces and pilfering liquor bottles.

During this occasion, a store manager had the courage to confront the youths only to be threatened. The youths continued to load their carts undeterred by the manager’s attempt to intervene.

The youth’s bravado caught the eye of an off-duty RCMP Officer who didn’t hesitate to act.

After showing his badge and identifying himself the officer was immediately met with a literal barrage of flying liquor bottles, one of which struck him in the head.

The thieves managed to escape with over $1,200 worth of stolen liquor.

The off-duty officer was treated for minor injuries.

Winnipeg Police Public Information Officer Constable Jay Murray later stated;

“They literally pelted him with liquor bottles, anything they could grab, even as he backed off, he continued to be hit with these bottles.”

On August 30, 2018, the young offender called 911 and asked the police to come and arrest him.

Officers subsequently attended an address in the 300 block of Pacific Avenue and took the youth into custody. At the time of his arrest, he was found in possession of a fold and lock knife.

The sixteen-year-old (16) youth was charged with;

  • Robbery x 2
  • Assault a Peace Officer
  • Possession of a Weapon
  • Theft Over $5,000
  • Possess Goods Obtained by Crime Over $5,000
  • Fail to Comply with Sentence x 2

He was also processed on the strength of four (4) outstanding arrest warrants for charges of;

  • Theft Under $5,000 x 6
  • Fail to Comply with Sentence x 12

The boy was detained in custody.

An adult male was also charged in connection with these crimes.

The investigation is continuing and more arrests are anticipated.

So How Did We Get Here?

It seems MLL policy has a lot to do with the increasing theft problem at Manitoba Liquor Marts.

That policy dictates employees take a “hands-off” approach regarding anyone suspected of committing a theft of liquor.

It doesn’t matter if employees have a mere suspicion or if they’re witnessing brazen or overt acts of theft.

As we approach the end of the 3rd quarter of 2018, the WPS reports they’ve received 1,182 reports of Liquor Mart thefts.

Sources indicate the “hands-off” policy also extends to outsourced security guards who work at various locations.

(The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) operated under a similar policy and felt the heat after the Toronto Sun wrote an exposé article regarding the issue.)

It seems MLL policymakers operated under the naive belief criminals in Winnipeg wouldn’t spread the news that theft of liquor from Manitoba Liquor Marts is about as easy as it gets.

Enter store, select booze, walk out.

That’s it.

How was that news not going to spread?

As we approach the end of the 3rd quarter of 2018, the WPS reports they’ve received 1,182 reports of Liquor Mart thefts.

While police can’t offer hard numbers, they believe the thefts have dramatically increased this year.

It seems word does get around.

A source inside the MLL indicates they receive approximately eighty (80) theft reports per day and only a handful of them are forwarded to police to investigate.

These thefts aren’t committed by chronic alcoholics who struggle with addiction.

Hennessy @ MLL (Photo JGJ)

These thieves aren’t stealing a case of Bud Light or even two for that matter.

These are commercial thefts committed by motivated, habitual criminals.

These criminals target premium liquor like Hennessy Cognac @ $101.26 per 750 ml, Grey Goose Vodka @ $69.99 per 1140 ml and assorted Ciroc products averaging around the $46.99 mark.

Criminals emboldened by the “hands-off” policy.

“They’re even nice about it, one thief said, “Have a nice day” as he wheeled out the cart full of stolen liquor,” one MLL  employee said.

The running joke around the Liquor Mart water cooler;

“Can I help you to your getaway car with that cart full of stolen liquor sir.”

The problem is, it’s funny – not funny.

These MLL thefts expose three significant issues that need to be addressed;

  • MLL policy
  • The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA)
  • The WPS Major Crimes Unit Mandate

MLL Policy

With no deterrent to theft at MLL Stores expect the thefts to trend higher.

As word spreads, we’ll see more and more criminal opportunists take advantage.

The current policy, as it stands, is ineffective and irresponsible.

The policy encourages theft.

How pervasive is theft at MLLs?

In one case, a plainclothes WPS Officer working an anti-theft initiative at a Liquor Mart observed a man stealing a bottle of liquor. The officer approached the man, showed his badge and told him he was under arrest for theft.

The suspect appeared shocked and said, “What are you talking about, you can’t arrest me for this.”

It turns out the man was operating under the mistaken belief the “hands-off” policy applied to members of the local police force as well.

He was wrong.

Sparsely Stocked Vodka Shelves (Photo JGJ)

The question has to be asked, “What has MLL done to mitigate the risk to their employees, customers & assets?”

An obvious attempt to deter or reduce theft can be seen when you survey the vodka section, staff only place one bottle of each specific brand on the shelves.

(The limited quantity approach is only applied to the most expensive labels in the store.)

Will this strategy have the anticipated deterrent effect?

It’s unlikely, considering the fact the stock room doors are often wide open or insecure and accessible to anyone who enters the store.

“It won’t be long before they figure out they can just go back there and take it out by the case,” one employee scoffed.

According to MLL communications officer Susan Harrison, Liquor Marts have “state of the art” cameras and surveillance systems.

(She declined to discuss internal security measures because it might compromise ongoing investigations and the safety of employees or customers.)

The MLL records the thefts and dutifully turns over hours of video surveillance to police who are expected to conduct video analysis, investigate, process/secure evidence, make arrests and detain offenders.

These investigations are laborious and time-consuming.

According to one police source, “We could have four full-time Detectives working on nothing but MLL thefts and still not keep up with these files.”

“We could have four full-time Detectives working on nothing but MLL thefts and still not keep up with these files.”

The good news is the fix is a relatively easy one.

The Deterrent Effect

The MLL has a number of options to consider to dramatically reduce theft at their Liquor Marts;

Option #1:

Hire armed off-duty WPS Constables to deter theft and arrest offenders.

Option #2

Hire professional loss prevention officers to deter theft and arrest offenders.

Option #3

Create a Criminal Investigations Branch, staffed with experienced, professional investigators who would be responsible for all theft investigations, identifying habitual/serial offenders, arrests and prosecutions.

Once offenders start getting collared, the word spreads and the thefts are dramatically reduced.

No more free booze at Manitoba Liquor Marts.

The party’s over.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act

WPS Media Release

I don’t intend to dive too deep into this topic, the issues are aplenty.

A simple review of the WPS media release tells you all you really need to know about the YCJA and the demise of Criminal Justice in our Province;

  • The 16-year-old offender was charged with a total of fourteen (14) fail to comply with sentence charges – that tells us something about how effective youth sentences are…
  • The youth was responsible for upwards of twenty-five (25) thefts before he was apprehended and would still be out there, committing brazen thefts at Liquor Marts, if he didn’t inexplicably call the police to surrender himself
  • If you were able to look at his criminal record, I’m confident you’d find a long and continuous history that points to a completely ineffective approach to youth criminal justice
  • The case demonstrates another example of how adult offenders exploit the toothless YCJA by using young offenders to engage in criminal activity, knowing the young offender has little to lose when they are apprehended, charged and convicted

The WPS Major Crimes Unit Mandate

What’s in a name.

Everything in this case.

The WPS Major Crimes Unit was, at one time, a unit mandated to investigate precisely what its moniker suggests – major crime.

Theft Under $5,000 is not a major crime.

In fact, it’s a crime growing in insignificance in an overtaxed criminal justice system burdened with seemingly endless cases that often feature abhorrent violence.

WPS Crime Scene Investigator (Photo JGJ)

The Major Crimes Unit was once tasked with investigating high-profile crimes that occurred in the City of Winnipeg, such as;

  • Homicides – autonomously or in support of the Homicide Unit
  • Kidnappings, Extortion, Home Invasions, Hostage Taking
  • Bank Robberies – armed, serial or when shots were fired
  • Major Sexual Assaults – rapes, serial offenders, serious injuries
  • Shootings – attempted murders, gang crime, organized crime
  • Major Cases – politically motived crimes, hate crimes
  • Police Involved Shootings – autonomously or in support of the Homicide Unit

(Noted list is not exhaustive.)

So why is the WPS Major Crimes Unit tasked with investigating MLL thefts?

It’s a question many Major Crime Unit Detectives have been pondering.

Property crimes like MLL thefts were historically investigated by District Detective Units. These units were staffed by far less experienced investigators often working their first assignment in plain clothes criminal investigations.

These units essentially operated as training grounds for young Detectives working to hone and develop the skills required to advance into the arena of more serious criminal investigations.

The system had merit.

The system worked.

That all changed when WPS Police Chief Danny Smyth instituted sweeping changes into the organizational structure of the WPS which included centralizing all investigative services.

Newton’s third law applies here;

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

The decision to centralize investigative services tremendously widened the MCU mandate.

Some suggest that mandate has become far too wide?

That argument seems to have merit.

It might be time for the WPS to re-consider how they do business.

Final Thoughts

Police Chief Danny Smyth (2017 WPS Annual Report)

On July 23, 2018, the WPS released their 2017 Annual Statistical Report, a report that highlighted a 7% year over year increase in violent crime and a 10% increase in the five-year violent crime average.

Chief Smyth blamed the increases on the growing use of methamphetamine and the pattern of violence associated with the drug trade that has begun to grip the City.

The connection isn’t hard to make, just read the daily arrests published by the WPS.

It’s all there in black and white.

So what does all of this mean?

It means the WPS doesn’t have the time or resources to chase Liquor Mart thieves because the management at MLL lacks the courage or vision to develop policies that deter theft.

They manufactured the problem.

The situation is not dissimilar to the burden placed on the WPS by Child Welfare Agencies who developed ineffective child protection strategies that placed heavy burdens on front-line WPS resources.

Police leaders simply can’t continue to let external agencies create issues that ultimately paralyze the Police Service.

A line has to be drawn somewhere.


September 11, 2018

WPS Press Release

The WPS issues a press release highlighting the arrest of two suspects involved in a combined total of 132 Liquor Mart thefts.

During the media release, WPS Public Information Officer Constable Jay Murray indicated;

“These types of files can create a substantial drain on our resources with our Detectives, especially with our Major Crime Detectives.”

He continued…

“I think an important thing to note here is, we will always work with businesses or agencies to mitigate crime, but there is a certain onus on all businesses to prevent these types of events from occurring. Prevention rather than just reactive policing will likely be a key component to alleviating this problem.”

Murray confirmed it was his belief that Liquor Mart security guards do not intervene when they witness these thefts.

He reported there have been 1,277 MLL thefts reported in Winnipeg this year.

There have been 95 MLL thefts reported so far in the month of September.

Look for the thefts to continue unabated until MLL management begins to take asset protection more seriously.

Update #2

January 26, 2019

The Winnipeg Free Press publishes an article titled, “Pepper spray incident highlights Liquor Mart theft issue: employee.”

The story quotes a Liquor Mart employee who stated;

“I’ve never seen anything like this, and where it’s heading is a total disaster,” said the employee, who did not want to provide their name. “It’s so out of control. We have people walking out with cases (of booze).”

The story went on to explore a recent incident where a number of people were pepper-sprayed by Liquor Mart thief.

According to the report, six people were treated by EMS after suffering the effects of the irritant.

One victim had to be treated at hospital.

MLLC did not comment on the story.

Update #3

February 10, 2019

Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries bite the bullet and partner with the Winnipeg Police Service in a pilot program aimed to deter liquor thefts.

The pilot program entails the deployment of “special duty” – armed WPS officers in specific Liquor Mart locations.

In an interview published by the CBC, Winnipeg Police Association President Maurice Sabourin indicated;

“People are going into liquor stores and just grabbing bottles and running out and I think they are well aware that security guards don’t typically intervene.”

He continued,  “So having a police officer that is specially trained and has all the tools at their disposal is likely a very good deterrent for this type of situation.” 

The time for action was long overdue.

WPS Media Release

WPS Media Release


  1. If the rule of law doesn’t mean anything anymore we’re on a slippery slope to a very dark place. I can feel the pull of gravity now. It’s a rising tide floating boats in every category of crime

  2. Scott Browning

    And all this time I thought it was a rouse to cover up the gross internal theft by employees.

  3. When I read this article I find it so reminiscent of the problem we had years ago when the media televised how easy it was to steal a car. Car thefts soared overnight with hundreds being stolen daily. Perhaps we need to bring in something akin to the Auto Theft Suppression strategy to deal with MLCC thefts.

  4. Hammertime – Actually if MLCC says staff can detain they then have the legal authority to do so as they would be acting as agent of the store the same why any security would at say a mall or anywhere. Its all under the citizens arrest laws. They might not say this however due to the other point you made. While they could detain, they are not trained to so it becomes a liability for them. Even trained loss prevention staff won’t try to detain when a weapon is pulled.

  5. So glad this has finally been exposed to the public.
    I resigned MLC when the danger level rose quickly in my decent neighborhood store. I had been spit upon, sworn at, touched inappropriately, given grossly sticky cash and threatened with a knife. For a Part Time job – who needs that? Not quite the gravy job the public believes. Very demoralizing actually.

    Few issues preventing effective action being taken:
    – Brazen attitudes have escalated in the past 2 yrs. Often, groups enter store and scatter, then grab and go. Only so many staff are working each shift. I actually witnessed a thug smash 2 – large bottles of rye ($120) because we told him to leave the store – was intoxicated. Just glad he didn’t start throwing them.
    – Staff are concerned about being accused of profiling customers. Could end up on Social Media. The race card comes up allot once suspects are confronted.
    – No one in-store has legal authority and experience to detain suspects. Cameras are there and recording everything but…..Casinos are in the same position.

    Reminder —–MLC & Lotteries are For-Profit biz and the taxpayers are leaning heavy on both to support MB social services. Higher quality security cuts deeply into profits.

  6. While I understand the MLCC’s desire to avoid confrontation in hopes it will prevent anyone from getting hurt over a couple hundred bucks of liquor, society just can’t work this way. It’s not the money, it’s the principle.

    Secondly, you don’t create safety by inviting criminals into your store, and as you rightly point out, pretty soon they’ll just go straight to the loading dock and load up that way. I mean, why not? It’s an open invitation.

    While you’re right about the YCJA, this youth not only turned himself in, but he forgot to stash his weapon beforehand. We aren’t dealing with rocket scientists here, the failures in the system began long before we got the point of being able to apply the YCJA, and I think a lot of judges feel it is unfair and unproductive to punish these people. Unfortunately, the courts are the only place to send these people.

    We need a major shift in society. The police, the courts, and the jails work well for murderers and drug dealers. But they’re way too expensive, cumbersome and ill-equipped to be the catch-all problem-solvers of society we expect them to be.

  7. James G Jewell

    Krisjan, absolutely not…

    Nowhere did I suggest employees put themselves in harms way.

    What I do suggest is they have a deterrent to theft.

    Having paid security present with no authority to prevent or deter theft is completely unacceptable.

    There are reasonable measures MLCC cant take to deter theft.

    Having no deterrent encourages lawlessness and theft.

    That’s how I see it…

    Thank you for reading…

  8. You suggest they get physical and put safety at risk? What if pepperspray, a knife, or gun is pulled? Who needs to get hurt? Liquor is replaceable. Lives aren’t. They should not expect employees to put themselves in danger and escalate situations to physical encounters.

  9. Excellent article James!

    The lack of intestinal fortitude, path of least resistance and CYA are all in full effect with MLCC management.

    MLCC management doesn’t really care, its no skin off their @ss!

    However if it was part of every executives BONUS qualification package to reduce loss then you would see real action.

    The Public is on the hook for everything so there is no incentive to reduce theft/cost increases…….. just increase the margins like they are doing!

    After all it is a monopoly, no other game in town.

    I see nothing, I know nothing, just fricking lovely!!!

  10. Great article, as usual.
    How about a door-locking system where as the thief is heading out, the second exit door is locked first and then while in between the two doors the first exit door is locked behind the thief thus ‘caging’ him between the two?
    The timing of this action would have to be very quick and efficient, but technology should be able to solve that easily enough.

  11. Michael Melanson

    Thanks for the info and insight. I had no idea how bad shoplifting had become at the LCs. Only a socialized retailer could afford to dispense with loss prevention because of the guarantee that the cost of losses could be passed on to law-abiding customers immediately and infinitely.

  12. James G Jewell

    TA – valid points, thank you for reading!

  13. I wonder if the MLCC would make public the amount of money they spend on private “security.” They are nothing more than overpriced greeters. Some stores have as many as 3 and for what? So there is someone to alert staff when a theft is happening? The staff themselves aren’t trained or allowed to intervene. How much of the MLCC leadership incompetence has been passed onto the consumer in the way of inflated prices?

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