WINNIPEG – As the rash of shoplifting in Winnipeg continues to climb, employees’ unions are getting fed up with the lack of action from employers to address the problem.

Statistics from the Winnipeg Police Service show shoplifting has been on a steady rise for the past three years. In January to February of 2018, there were 4,465 reported incidents. This is jump from the 2,790 reported shoplifting incidents in 2017, and the 1,855 reported incidents in 2016.

On Monday yet another shoplifting incident was reported, where an employee was allegedly punched after a number of suspects stole several jackets from a store in the Unicity area.  

This steady increase is leaving employees scared to go to work, angry at the public and humiliated by shoplifters, The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 832 told CTV News.

Jeff Traeger, the president of UFCW832, which represents 8,000 retail workers, told CTV News it’s not uncommon for their members to report five to six instances of shoplifting in one shift. He said shoplifters are now going into the back room and taking items right from the stocking room shelves.

“They are afraid to walk into the backroom because they don’t know who’s hiding behind a pallet or whose in there that’s not supposed to be. They are afraid to walk across the parking lot when it’s dark,” Traeger said.

“They are angry at the public for what the public appears to be doing, they are angry with the situation and they are angry with their employer for not addressing it. Many of them have reported, surprisingly, feeling humiliated.”

Traeger said in one case, a shoplifter loaded three, 52-inch TVs onto a shopping cart, waved at the manager, and gave him a “familiar hand gesture” before walking out of the store, loading the stolen merchandise in a truck and driving away.


In February, UFCW832 sent a letter to its major employers, including Loblaw and Sobeys, calling on the businesses to address the rise in shoplifting and the safety concerns it’s causing employees. While some of these employers met with the union, Traeger said there has been little action.

“We are still seeing a limited amount of effort or money or changes being put into the stores to deal with it and it’s really concerning,” Traeger said. “I believe the solution for them is likely more expensive than the problem.” 

In a written email to CTV News, Loblaw, the parent company of Shoppers Drug Mart and Superstore, said the safety of its colleagues and customers is its first priority. 

“As crime in the retail environment continues to evolve, our strategies to combat it change too,” the email said. 

Loblaw said it uses trained security staff, CCTV video technology, “sophisticated anti-theft technology” and in some cases paid Winnipeg police officers.

Winnipeg police said there are a few business that hire special duty officers in their stores, which include Superstore, some liquor stores and Costco.

A statement from Sobeys also echoed Loblaw’s sentiment of colleague and customer priority. 

“We’re dedicated to taking all steps necessary to ensure that our stores remain a safe place where our employees are proud to work and our loyal customers are welcomed to do their shopping.”

Sobeys said it uses security gates, lane blockers, and customer railings to deter thefts, as well as visual merchandising strategically placed to block exits. Sobeys said it has upgraded its CCTV video systems, and has been adding new LED lighting to make parking lots brighter – something the union requested in their letter.


Even with these improvements in security, Traeger said the thefts continue and employees who try to intervene are often disciplined or even fired for doing so.

“One member was assaulted while trying to stop a shoplifter, the employee was disciplined for violating company policy,” Traeger said.

Traeger said UFCW832 represents 2,400 security guards, and their employers tell them they are only there to be a “visual deterrent” and a “professional witness.”


Traeger said what’s causing the increase in shoplifting comes down to issues facing society.

“It’s a combination of things, but I really believe that the root cause is exactly that – that we have a poverty problem in Winnipeg, we have an addictions problem, we have a homelessness problem, combined with all that, there are issues facing people with mental health, and I think we need to address those before it’s going to get any better.”

Traeger said to address these issues will take years, not months. In the meantime, he said there needs to be stricter penalties and enforcement. 

One Winnipeg criminologist has a different idea. Frank Cormier, a professor of criminology at the University of Manitoba, told CTV News he acknowledges the issues of homelessness, poverty, and addictions do contribute – he believes there is something else driving the retail theft rampage.


While the shoplifting is bad right now in Winnipeg, Cormier said he doesn’t think it will last much longer.

“There will be a natural limit; I don’t think things will just keep getting worse,” said Cormier. “I hate to use the word fad, but it's somewhat related to the idea of fad, where it's something that everyone's talking about, and therefore everyone's thinking about it and many people are trying it out.”

Cormier said while the crimes have been heavily publicized through the media and social media, the penalties have not been as prevalent in the public eye.

He said there are three aspects needed to deter crime: swift action and enforcement, a certainty that those who commit crimes will be caught, and a proportional punishment that fits the crime.

“Ordinarily, the fear of being punished would stop (people) from doing that. So when you remove that fear of being punished, then we might expect that more people will engage in these kinds of criminal acts,” Cormier said. “People have to believe that they will be caught.”

Cormier said he believes as police start reporting more on the number of people arrested for shoplifting and retail theft crimes, Winnipeg will start to see the number of thefts start to decrease.

Until those numbers start to go down, Traeger has a message for consumers.

“On the public side, don’t kid yourselves, when there is thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars of pure loss walking out the door as people are committing theft – the public is going to be impacted by that. The price of everything else goes up incrementally to reach the bottom line,” he said. 

“So we’re paying the price for this at the end of the day and I think the public is going to begin to see the price of food, the price of alcohol, the price of other things getting out of hand.”

Traeger said the union’s main concern is that its members get home safe at the end of each work day. If the workplace becomes too dangerous, Traeger said he will be encouraging employees to exercise their right to refuse unsafe work.

He said if that happens, there will be no one working in grocery stores anymore.