WINNIPEG -- The Manitoba government has established a new task force to help curb retail crime in the province after retail thefts have increased by 125 per cent in the last three years.

Justice Minister Cliff Cullen made the announcement at a news conference on Tuesday, Sept. 22, noting the province has also seen a rise in violent crime targeted at businesses.

“This retail crime sometimes leads to violent crime,” Cullen said.

“These offenders are quite brazen in their behaviour. We’re finding some of these offenders are quite sophisticated and many of them are repeat offenders.”

The Retail Crime Task Force is part of a recommendation from the Manitoba Retail Crime Round Table, an event hosted by six business associations that took place in January 2020. More than 90 participants representing 68 private and public sector organizations participated in this roundtable.

Other recommendations that came out of this event include developing and implementing a retail crime strategy, along with collecting, analyzing, and distributing information that supports the safety needs of retailers.

Cullen noted that retail crime is a public safety issue.

“We want to make sure that our retailers are safe and that the public is safe when they are out there doing their retail shopping as well,” he said.

“We take public safety very seriously.”

The task force includes representatives from Manitoba Justice, the Winnipeg Police Service, RCMP, retailers, private security firms, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, Commissionaires Manitoba, and the Retail Council of Canada. 

The members of the Retail Crime Task Force are:

  • John Graham, director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada;
  • Shannon Martin, MLA for McPhillips;
  • Scott Kolody, associate deputy minister of Manitoba Justice;
  • Michele Jules; executive director of the Manitoba Prosecutions Service;
  • Chief Supt. Rob Hill of the RCMP;
  • Deputy Chief Jeff Szyszkowski of the Winnipeg Police Service;
  • Bryan Payne of Commissionaires Manitoba;
  • Damien Smith, district loss prevention officer for Rexall – a national retailer;
  • Brian Scharfstein from Canadian Footwear – a small, independent retailer;
  • Shawn McGurk, director of corporate and surveillance for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries;
  • Scott Young, vice president of GardaWorld Western Canada; and
  • Rick Linden, a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Manitoba.

The province noted Manitoba Justice will play a key role in the task force, which will discuss and share best practices, and look for innovative prevention, suppression, and intervention strategies.

The task force will also identify loss prevention strategies that deal with the root causes of the theft, and look at programs that have worked in other jurisdictions.

“We’ve also convened an operations table,” Cullen said.

“This operations table has actually been in operation for a number of months, and this table brings together law enforcement from across the province, our Crown prosecutor’s branch from Manitoba Justice.

“And the goal of this operations table is to focus on the apprehension side.”

Insp. Shawn Pike said in July 2020 Winnipeg police collaborated with Manitoba Justice to develop Project Stop Lifting, which focuses on chronic retail theft offenders in Winnipeg.

“Known offenders are being identified, arrested and tracked throughout the justice system,” he said.

He said since July 10, as a result of Project Stop Lifting, officers have checked 381 known offenders, and of these 74 warrants have been executed relative to retail theft.

Pike added of these 74 warrants and arrests, police have laid 592 charges. Nine of the arrested offenders had 20 or more charges outstanding.

He said of the 74 arrests, 35 offenders have been detained and 39 were released.

“These are people that are habitual, that are continuing to target retail businesses throughout the province for personal gain, for organized crime gain,” Pike said.