Millennium Library’s Community Connections space remains closed

An advocate for Winnipeg’s homeless population says the Millennium Library should be a place that welcomes all people, but after a recent incident that left one man dead, he said it can only be a welcoming place if everyone inside it feels they are safe.

“Everyone has a right to a safe workplace, and it’s especially important for the staff at the library not only to be safe, but to feel safe,” local community advocate Al Wiebe said.

“For a long time I was in favour of no screening, but a murder changes everything.”

Last April, Wiebe joined other advocates and city officials at the Millennium Library in downtown Winnipeg to officially open a new Community Connections space that, at the time, the city said would be a welcoming area for visitors facing issues including homelessness and poverty, as well as challenges with mental health and addictions.

The opening of the space came about a year after the library scrapped airport-style security screening, which had included metal detectors, wands, and bag checks, due in part to backlash the measures received from some community groups.

Wiebe, who sits on the city’s library advisory committee, admits he had previously pushed for the screening to be scrapped, but said he now agrees with it being reinstated after the death of Tyree Cayer, 28, who was stabbed to death inside the downtown library on Dec. 11.

Four boys, two 14-year-olds, a 15-year-old, and a 16-year-old have all been arrested and charged with the man’s murder. One of the boys was charged with second-degree murder and the three others with manslaughter. None of the charges have been tested in court.

But after being closed for weeks after Cayer’s death, the library reopened with strict security measures that include the return of airport-style screening, metal detectors and bag checks, as well as the presence of uniformed police officers.

Along with the new measures has also come the temporary closure of the Community Connections space and Wiebe said it will remain closed for now. Both city officials and community advocates will have to decide when and if it can reopen and if it would also be subject to increased security measures.

“I am certain the community space won’t be open for a while, because right now the only focus should be on safety,” Wiebe said. “And yes we opened it and did a big announcement last year, but right now we just can’t open it until we figure this out.”

In an email, a city of Winnipeg spokesperson confirmed that the Community Connection Space will be closed temporarily at the Millennium Library.

The city said the new security measures at the library are considered temporary, as they are waiting on results and recommendations from a comprehensive risk and security audit of the facility before deciding what security measures should be put in place permanently.

Wiebe said he believes there will be some who will still want to see an end to airport-style screening, but he said it may be the only way to keep people safe in the library.

“A life was taken and that can never be minimized, so we can’t just have blinders on about the whole thing given this murder, and given the increased murders and increased violence in this city,” Wiebe said.

He said he has also been hearing for months from Millennium Library staff that they often feel unsafe at work, and if that continues he worries some will quit, making it even harder to keep the library running.

“Some of these staff witnessed a murder, and some are now traumatized because that stays with you forever,” Wiebe said.

“They have a right to a safe workplace, and if the library is going to be for everyone, then everyone deserves to feel safe and secure.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun