Millennium Library visits dropped in 2022 but number of incidents is way up

The number of visitors to Winnipeg’s Millennium Library in 2022 was far below the pre-pandemic years, but the number of incidents in which people were injured, threatened, harassed or needed medical assistance is way up, according to data released by the city.

The data was released Friday, five days after Tyree Cayer, 28, was stabbed to death inside the downtown library.

Four boys — two 14-year-olds, a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old — have been arrested and charged. One of the 14-year-olds is charged with second-degree murder while the other three boys are charged with manslaughter.

The library has been closed to the public since the stabbing, with no reopening date set.

The head of CUPE Local 500, the union that represents library workers, said he doesn’t know city’s plans around reopening or better security measures, though he hopes to get some answers soon.

The union is meeting with city administration on Monday for the first time since Cayer’s death.

“We’re hoping we’ll get some indicator on if they’re going to proceed on their own, or do they want to consult with us and other community groups. I guess we’ll find out today,” said Gord Delbridge, president of CUPE Local 500, which represents 5,000 City of Winnipeg workers.

“If the library administration just chooses to go ahead and do things on their own, without including others, such as the union and their staff, our members, as well as some community organizations as well, then it’s more likely to fail.”

According to city data that goes back to 2017, the total number of incidents reported at the Millennium in 2022 was 627. The next highest year was 2018, when there were 559.

Staff is on edge, Delbridge said.

“They’re concerned about their safety and well-being, and it’s understandable that they would be.”

The total number of visits to the Millennium in 2022 was 519,581. That’s more than 300,000 fewer visits than in 2017 (861,9970) and still well below 2018 (855,192) and 2019 (608,692).

A chart lists the number of Millennium Library incidents and library visitors from 2017 to 2022
(City of Winnipeg)

The city attributes the decrease in 2019 to enhanced security measures that started that February.

Airport-style screening — metal detector wands and bag checks at the entrance — was brought in due to an increase in incidents, which jumped more than 100 from 2017 to 2018.

The security measures were scrapped in 2020 after there was backlash from community groups.

The number of incidents fell that year, however, as the library was closed for long stretches because of COVID-19. Those closures also impacted the numbers in 2021.

Even though the library didn’t return to full operating hours until June 2022, the number of incidents drastically increased.

In April of that year, the city opened Community Connections, a service hub in the library’s lobby, to connect people with a wide range of social supports.

There are three community crisis workers stationed at the hub, trained in delivering first aid and Naloxone, used to counteract the effects of opioid overdoses.

Just over a month before the the fatal attack on Cayer, a 41-year-old man was arrested on the fourth floor of the library when he pulled out a knife and started acting erratically in front of staff and patrons.

The library was closed immediately after Cayer’s death and a couple of days later, the city issued a statement saying it would stay that way until Dec. 19 “as we evaluate next steps for ensuring the safety of all staff and visitors.”

Two days later, Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham said it probably would not reopen by the 19th. The following day, the city announced on social media that the library would be closed indefinitely.

Despite that, about half of the unionized workers at the Millennium Library are back in the building for what Delbridge calls a soft return before the doors eventually reopen.

“It’s a good soft start for them to get back into the workplace, just amongst each other,” to get comfortable being back after the trauma of the stabbing and to provide input as to what security they would like to see, Delbridge said.

“It would be nice if we could find a way that we could bring everyone together in agreement as to what’s working or what we need to work towards,” he said.

“The staff want to have some type of security measures in place but they want it to be done right.”

Delbridge couldn’t really say what that would look like, but he would prefer to see the city train an in-house security team over hiring a private company.

“If we do this work internally … we’re not accepting the lowest bid and we’re not bound to the provisions of a contract,” he said.

“We can evolve and … be able to adapt for staffing needs and community needs and for the patrons.”

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