Manitoba Liquor Mart robberies fuelled by institutionalized neglect of meth crisis

Communities suffer the consequences as drug epidemic remains unresolved

The meth epidemic in Manitoba is a complex problem that can only be solved with progressive legislation.

Manitoba Liquor Mart store thefts have become a serious issue. So much so that it’s hard to escape the viral videos swirling around Facebook — as people in masks storm the stores taking as much as they can carry while bystanders look on in dismay.

The Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) has reported a current average of 10 to 20 liquor store robberies per day with a warning to the public not to intervene in the event of a theft so as not to endanger themselves.

According to the WPS, this increase is largely driven by the increased use of meth.

Meth is an extremely addictive substance that may cause people to engage in aggressive or compulsive behaviour. When someone is caught up in the addiction of this powerful drug, they often do whatever it takes to obtain the means to feed their addiction and survive. This includes shoplifting and reselling goods on websites such as Kijiji to generate quick cash.

But it’s not only shoplifting that has seen an increase with the rise of meth use. The July statistical report released by the WPS shows that property crimes increased almost 25 per cent from July 2018 to July 2019, and in July 2019, were almost 39 per cent higher than the five-year average.

Similarly, needles have been found littered in the streets of Winnipeg in increasing numbers. The Bear Clan Patrol, a volunteer-based neighbourhood patrol group, has found a record number of needles on their patrols of the city this year. As of March, the Bear Clan had already found approximately 20,000 needles on the streets since the beginning of the year. This means that they are on track to pick up 80,000 by the end of 2019 — double the amount found in 2018.

As a society, we now know the uptick in theft and crime is due to the meth crisis. It’s now a matter of what we’re going to do about it. It’s clear that both civic representatives and provincial legislators have a choice to make. They can either spend our limited resources to hire more police and build more prisons or they can understand that the vast majority of this crime comes from people who just need help. Sadly, it seems they’ve chosen the former, and the problem is only getting worse.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has opted to obfuscate and mislead the public by selectively choosing the few data points that contradict the larger provincial trend.

The most egregious part of all is the $4.1 million Manitoba received from the federal government in December 2018 to help the province fund addictions treatment programs — money which has remained entirely unspent. The province has the funding needed to take action and simply has not. This shows a shameful lack of urgency by the provincial government, which is unacceptable, given the current situation.

In similar fashion, the provincial government established the Illicit Drug Task Force (IDTF) with the federal and municipal governments. The IDTF’s final report was released in June outlining recommendations for reducing the impacts of illicit drugs on our communities, but the report is underwhelming in its lack of clear-cut solutions and strategies to combat the drug crisis.

The experts are already clear on what will solve the issue at the root. The solution is not only the economical approach, but the humane option.

This solution is to establish supervised consumption sites all across Manitoba. 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. The majority of these studies were based on safe injection sites in Vancouver, B.C.

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

Along with safe consumption sites, representatives must take things a step further by providing the necessary volume of supportive services where people can go to detox and seek immediate treatment — an area where Manitoba has been dangerously lacking. People who want help should not be forced to wait and further suffer due to a lack of funding.

It’s clear that we are at a crossroads in Manitoba. We can either spend our finite resources to hire more police for our streets and more security guards for our liquor stores or we can combat the problem with the humane and empathetic approach it deserves.

The problem demands immediate action, or we will continue to see more ill effects due to the lack of it. Manitobans need support and our representatives must get on board by doing everything possible to bring balance into the lives of citizens before any more harm is done.