Don’t expect the Millennium Library to reopen this week as planned, union says
Winnipeggers shouldn’t expect the Millennium Library to reopen this week following a fatal stabbing that closed the downtown facility last month — and the union that represents workers suggests that’s tied to a rise in incidents and safety concerns.
The library has been mostly closed to the public since Sunday, Dec. 11, after former high school football start Tyree Cayer was stabbed inside the facility and died. Three teens were charged with manslaughter and a fourth with second-degree murder.
Patrons have only been able to return and pick up items from the library over the past few weeks, and city officials planned to reopen the space to the public in mid-January. Gord Delbridge, president of CUPE Local 500, said that’s unlikely to happen.
“We want to get the library open as soon as possible, our members want it open, we know it’s a valued public service,” said Delbridge.
“Our members love the work that they do in serving Winnipeggers but they want to be able to do it safely and we want to make sure that the appropriate protocols are put in place prior to opening.”
Delbridge said city officials met with library staff Monday, but a reopening date still hasn’t been set.
Ongoing discussions stem not only from the December homicide, but from safety concerns tied to a rise in incidents reported last year.
“It can be anything from from verbal abuse to verbal threats and just photographing employees while they’re on their work site,” said Delbridge. “There’s a variety of of different incidents that come into play.”
According to newly released data from the city, there were 198 safety-related incidents reported at the space in 2022 compared to 14 in 2021.
The 2022 figures include 66 reports of verbal abuse, 44 cases of intoxication, 35 threats, 32 assaults and 21 harassment incidents. That’s up from six cases of verbal abuse, 2 cases of intoxication, three threats, three assaults and zero harassment incidents reported in 2021 amid periods of pandemic restrictions.
Delbridge suggested the true number of recent incidents is much higher.
CUPE Local 500 filed a grievance against the city before the stabbing last month due to persistent safety issues. Delbridge said the issues happen so frequently that workers sometimes don’t bother notifying supervisors.
“City employees are often … under a much higher level of scrutiny and often there are incidents that aren’t reported,” he said. “Some people get … used to dealing with that in a day-to-day work day and some let it roll off the back.”
In response to concerns, the city previously brought in airport-style security features in 2019. Barricades, metal detector sweeps and bag checks were dropped in 2020 after pushback from the public.
Critics suggested the measures created barriers to a public space that is meant for everyone, and library services manager Ed Cuddy later called the measures a mistake.
Mayor Scott Gillingham said last month the library “won’t reopen the way it closed.”
The city hired a Saskatchewan-based consultant to perform a safety audit of Millennium and come up with security measures that could be implemented. The consultant has been tasked with trying to find a balance between security and safety, and making the library a welcoming space for all, according to a city spokesperson.
The space could reopen fully before the completion of the audit, the city said, and once it’s done an implementation plan will follow that will address immediate and short-term safety concerns. A second report in the works will pay specific attention to long-term safety plans.
In the meantime, people like Ima Omoruyi will have to keep looking for other spaces to study and read.
Omoruyi, who recently immigrated to Winnipeg, worked as a lawyer in Nigeria and is preparing to get qualified to practice law in Manitoba. That means lots of studying, which he was able to do at the Millennium Library before it closed.
The central location was “a very quiet and calm place where you can sit and do your research and read your books.”
“Access has been denied and as such it’s making it very difficult,” he said.