‘No repercussions’: Brazen criminals in Portage have no fear, says business owner

A Portage la Prairie business owner says issues of theft and robbery have been commonplace in the city for years, and he believes that is because those who commit crimes are often not concerned that there will be consequences for their actions.

“There is no fear in Portage because there are no repercussions,” Ajay Aggarwal said. “These people keep doing what they are doing because they know they are going to get away with it, and they know they will keep getting away with it.

“They know nothing is going to happen to them, and that is what is so frustrating.”

Aggarwal is the owner of Portage businesses Olina Fashions, Olina Cannabis and Olina Jewellery, all located in the downtown area of the city of about 13,000 residents, located 75 kilometres west of the city of Winnipeg.

His frustration with issues of theft came to what he called a “boiling point” after a Jan. 3 incident, where he said three people entered his fashion store, grabbed more than $3,000 worth of merchandise, and simply walked out to a car and drove off.

“So now because people just aren’t afraid of what could happen to them, they just blatantly come into the store, take thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff and just leave, and they don’t even look like they think they are doing anything wrong, or like they are even worried about what they are doing,” Aggarwal said.

He said he also had to give one employee who was working on Jan. 3 more than three days off work, because she was traumatized by what happened, and didn’t feel safe coming back to work immediately after.

Aggarwal said he does not believe that RCMP in the province have enough power or resources to seek theft and robbery suspects after an incident has occurred, and he does not believe the justice system is doing enough to keep those who have been arrested for crimes behind bars.

“Even when they are arrested they are often out on bail the next day,” he said. “I have completely lost faith in the system.”

He also feels like business owners are not getting enough support in Portage la Prairie, and are left to deal with issues on their own.

“Every time there is theft, I just feel like I have to suck it up and take the loss, and that’s not right,” Aggarwal said.

“The people breaking the law should not be the ones running the city.”

City of Portage la Prairie Mayor Sharilyn Knox said council is aware of issues of theft and robbery in the city and said she knows there are business owners who continue to be frustrated.

“We realize that this is a problem in Portage la Prairie, but also realize that more and more it is an issue all over the province in big and small communities in the past few years,” Knox said.

“We have seen increased theft, and increases in retail theft.”

She said she is also concerned because she knows some who work in Portage businesses do not feel safe when they are at work.

“We never want anyone to be in a dangerous situation, or a situation where they feel they are not safe,” Knox said.

But like Aggarwal, Knox said she also feels there need to be changes within the justice system to slow crime and theft in Portage la Prairie, and across the entire province.

“A big part of the frustration is what we continue to see with our justice system,” Knox said. “We see people go in front of a judge and get released, and they are back out there committing crimes and getting arrested, and just ending up back in court again, so that cycle just continues.

“I believe the justice system needs to take a real step back and look at how their decisions are affecting businesses, and affecting people in this province.”

In a statement, Mounties said Portage la Prairie RCMP are aware of thefts occurring at businesses in the community.

“Officers respond and investigate when a call of this nature is received,” an RCMP spokesperson said in an email. "In many cases the theft occurs quickly and when officers arrive the suspect has already fled the area. Patrols are made, however in many cases it is hard to obtain a good description of the suspect as they tend to cover their faces etc.

“It should also be noted that when we do make an arrest, if the charges are solely property crime offences, the accused is usually released with an upcoming court date.”

— 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