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LCBO thefts have spiralled and now make up nearly half of all shoplifting from Toronto’s most-hit retailers

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The looting of Toronto’s vulnerable LCBO outlets has spiralled to epidemic proportions — undergoing more than a threefold increase over the past five years — and the latest figures show it accounts for nearly half of all shoplifting incidents at the most frequently hit retail outlets in the city.

The issue of brazen, broad-daylight liquor theft, quantified for the first time two weeks ago in a Toronto Star investigation showing the city’s LCBO shops have been targeted more than 9,000 times since 2014, was sobering enough.

An LCBO outlet at 3111 Danforth Ave. has been particulaly hard-hit, staff say. The store had 316 incidents of shoplifting reported to Toronto police from 2014 to June 26, 2018, ranking it the eighth-highest LCBO location in the city for thefts.
An LCBO outlet at 3111 Danforth Ave. has been particulaly hard-hit, staff say. The store had 316 incidents of shoplifting reported to Toronto police from 2014 to June 26, 2018, ranking it the eighth-highest LCBO location in the city for thefts.  (Toronto Star Staff)

But a deeper dive into raw shoplifting data obtained from the Toronto Police Service, isolating the year-over-year increases — together with corroborating accounts from more than 20 LCBO whistleblowers who have approached the Star since the first story was published — now provides a far more detailed understanding of the scope and acceleration of the problem.

Among the revelations:

  • In 2014, police data shows, LCBO outlets accounted for just over a tenth of the shoplifting incidents at the top 100 most frequently targeted addresses of shoplifting incidents in Toronto. By 2017, it was a third. And halfway through 2018, the most recent data in the Star’s possession shows LCBOs accounted for nearly half of shoplifting incidents, with liquor heists happening more than three times as often as they did in 2014.
  • The summer of 2018, where the police data ends, saw a rash of a new and ever more brazen heists at several Toronto LCBOs, involving groups of thieves bypassing the display shelves altogether and instead plundering employee-only warehouse areas, where they helped themselves to entire sealed cases of premium liquors. The repeated raids on LCBO backrooms came as a shock to many anxiety-ridden frontline workers, five of whom told the Star they now fear what they may encounter as they go about what once was the simple, safe task of restocking shelves.
  • As those heists unfolded, in July 2018, an outraged downtown Toronto school principal sounded alarms with LCBO management and the newly elected Ford government, relaying information that children as young as 13 were stealing liquor “with impunity” and calling for an increase in store security. Mark Lasso, principal of Church Street Junior Public School, told the Star he received no response from Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, whose writ includes the LCBO.

The initial response from LCBO management to Lasso came via email from spokesperson Ryan McCann, who said, “Theft, and in this case, underage theft, is extremely concerning, especially since we make every effort to ensure alcohol stays out of the hands of minors.” But despite a follow-up discussion with a senior Toronto-area retail manager, Lasso told the Star he has seen no evidence of enhanced security at the LCBO locations that concern him most.

“It’s disappointing, sad and greatly concerning that this is continuing when measures could be put into place to prevent it,” said Lasso. “The cost of extra security seems to be the only hurdle — a cost that the LCBO could easily afford. As a public trust, I believe they can and need to do better. I think our kids are worth the cost.”

  • Though the police data obtained by the Star speaks strictly to theft at LCBOs in Toronto, a score of frontline LCBO workers from cities throughout Ontario contacted us in response to the initial investigation to say that theft often goes unreported when stores are busy, despite LCBO rules requiring staff to report every incident, both internally and to local police. “It’s both frightening and depressing,” said one. “But in the absence of security and with long lineups at the till, you have to tend to customers before you can get to the paperwork. And sometimes it just doesn’t get done.”

(The Star analyzed data supplied by the Toronto police through a freedom-of-information request for the 100 addresses with the most shoplifting occurrences from 2014 to 2018 by year. An initial request for the top 500 per year was denied because the police service said it couldn’t weed out private residences from an address list that long.)

Read more:

LCBO thefts surge in Toronto

Readers share accounts: ‘Discouraging. Dumbfounded.’

Leaked memo says LCBO ramping up anti-theft efforts

While LCBO management, in its initial response to the Star, acknowledged a general rise in shop theft at liquor stores in urban areas of Ontario, it did not address questions relating to the high-volume thefts described in the story. The Star went back to the LCBO for this follow-up, but the company said it had no comment.

Other frontline LCBO workers describe a morale-crushing reality in which many dread reporting for work. Several told of being threatened with thieves brandishing syringes as they filled loot bags. Another described a thief who “threw human feces” during a heist.

One broad theme among LCBO workers in contact with the Star: fear that the crisis is escalating toward the likelihood that someone, whether staff or even a customer, will pay a fatal price in the absence of more robust security or police response.

“I have been witness to multiple incidents where brave, if foolhardy, customers have chased thieves out of the store and come back to us with large bags full of product,” one frontliner said.

“By policy, and not exactly unjustly, we have our hands tied. And some of us aren’t necessarily into the idea of playing vigilante. Yet we feel the heat from customers for our perceived apathy and inaction.

“We are grateful for public support. I don’t think I need remind anybody that when a shoplifter walks out with something like $800 worth of 12-year-old Glenfiddich stuffed into a bag slung over his back like some miscreant Santa Claus, that is taxpayer money walking out the door with him. If the police won’t respond to these incidents and with the LCBO so seldom wont to prevent them, a store-level employee can’t do a lot.”

Indeed, a “no touch/no chase” policy on shoplifters is the prevailing norm not just at the LCBO but throughout modern-day retail — and few can reasonably expect otherwise from regular shop-floor workers, who never signed up as security. Without exception, every LCBO worker in contact with the Star points to more and better security as the primary solution.

Many frontline LCBO workers from cities throughout Ontario say LCBO theft often goes unreported when stores are busy.
Many frontline LCBO workers from cities throughout Ontario say LCBO theft often goes unreported when stores are busy.  (Toronto Star Staff)

The problem in Toronto also coincides with a police directive early in 2018 that informed LCBO management police would no longer respond in person to liquor theft unless the perpetrators were still inside the store. The theft data the Star is revealing today indicates LCBO theft in the city was at an all-time high as that decision was made.

Police officials in the city have emphasized the need to prioritize violent crime. And, as detailed in the Star’s Dec. 29 investigation, the service is rebounding with a new pilot program at 14 Division dedicated to solving LCBO theft. Though still in its early days, the team at 14 Division landed a major bust just before Christmas, arresting two individuals allegedly involved in a liquor theft ring of as many as 12 people.

Yet within LCBO circles, in the wake of the Star’s first report, insiders have sent distressing signals suggesting LCBO management are currently preoccupied with locating the author of an anonymous plea for help mailed to the Star, which triggered our initial investigation.

“Please keep me anonymous as they already have started a witch hunt in our district looking for your first source,” wrote one Toronto-area frontline worker. “This story is so deep and again thanks for your reporting. We are all stressed and anxious every damn shift.”

All current LCBO workers providing information to the Star are running the risk of instant dismissal. But the gag does not extend to former LCBO employees, some of whom have reached out to say on the record what active staff cannot.

“One thing I want to say is I really want to commend the person who sent that letter because whoever it was, they had a lot of courage,” said Karen Pound, who retired three years ago after a 35-year career with the LCBO, first as a cashier and later as an assistant manager.

“He or she put their job in jeopardy. Because that’s how bad it is. Everybody is afraid.”

Pound, who worked at several Hamilton-area LCBOs, said that “theft was brutal” as much as a decade ago — but largely confined to “small-time thefts” of one or two bottles. But the modern-day reality is that such minor theft is increasingly interspersed with brazen, big-bag heists that can involve duffel bags filled with premium liquors.

“The problem is all stores are kind of set up the same,” said Pound. “So when you come through that turnstile, you have all that high-end stuff all on one wall — easy access. The people come in, they know when there’s a shift change, they know peak times and when not to come in. They watch, they scan. And if there’s nobody on the floor, they know exactly when to come in. They have that whole wall that they can scoop and go.”

And the way stores are laid out, she said, leaves cashiers, and customer service staff, with their backs to the door.

“As an assistant manager, I would be in the office,” where there is one-way glass, said Pound. “So I could see everything.” She said she witnessed many people stealing even when her colleagues could not. “I could see the cashier couldn’t see it, because they had their back to it.”

Stores often have a single security guard, who Pound said is “just a deterrence.” If a store has enough reported incidents of theft, as well as video evidence, the LCBO will send in plainclothes security guards to catch thieves, according to another longtime LCBO employee.

Much of the LCBO’s guard work falls to an outside company — G4S Canada — which commands one of the country’s largest security services. But frontline LCBO workers, many of whom are employed as casual part-timers, tell the Star the security help routinely shifts from store to store, “almost like putting fingers in a dike that has too many holes and too few fingers,” in the words of one LCBO source.

A few months ago, an LCBO employee witnessed seven people filling shopping carts full of liquor and bolting out the door in single file. Staff who went outside to record licence plate information were verbally reprimanded, according to an email sent by the employee.

Workers who try to stop thefts at the stores can be subject to suspensions, said another veteran. “The employees care too much. People who try and stop it get disciplined,” he said. Videos of the thefts are used to punish the employees who interfere. “The wrong people are getting punished,” said the employee.

“We shouldn’t go too easy on the police — they have a role in this,” another frontline Toronto-area LCBO told the Star. “But it’s important to understand that the theft is becoming more sophisticated.

“In one recent theft, the cashier could see that a kind of bait-and-switch operation was underway. The G4 security went for the bait — going after the one guy — and as soon as they did, three big thieves hit us hard. They went for the bait and they missed the freaking muskellunge.”

Mitch Potter is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites

Patty Winsa is a Toronto-based data reporter. Reach her via email: pwinsa@thestar.ca



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Personal Injury firm to pay an estimated $4 million to settle class-action with former clients

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A personal injury law firm has agreed to pay an estimated $4 million to settle claims that the firm double-dipped from the settlements of nearly 1,800 accident victims it represented.

The settlement between Neinstein & Associates LLP, a prominent personal injury law firm, and its clients was approved Wednesday by Justice Paul Perell.

Cassie Hodge, one of nearly 1,800 accident victims who joined a class-action lawsuit against Neinstein & Associates LLP. The firm has agreed to pay an estimated $4 million to settle the claims.
Cassie Hodge, one of nearly 1,800 accident victims who joined a class-action lawsuit against Neinstein & Associates LLP. The firm has agreed to pay an estimated $4 million to settle the claims.  (Andrew Lahodynskyj / Toronto Star)

Perell’s sign-off on the settlement effectively ends a class-action lawsuit that was certified in June 2017 but never made it to trial.

At the time the class-action commenced, lawyers working on contingency — “you don’t pay unless we win” — were not allowed to take a sum of money called “costs” in addition to a percentage of the settlement, according to the Solicitor’s Act governing lawyers.

In 2012, the roughly 1,800 class members alleged that Gary Neinstein and the law firm breached provincial law and their “fiduciary duties because they charged an amount for costs” in addition to the fee spelled out in their contingency fee agreement, according to Perell’s settlement approval decision. The firm denied the allegations.

Jeff Neinstein, managing partner of Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers, told the Star in an email his firm is “pleased that this issue has been resolved.”

“We appreciate the trust and confidence that our clients have continued to place in us and we remain dedicated to providing compassionate legal representation for all victims across Ontario.”

During a brief hearing in a second-floor courtroom at downtown Toronto’s Osgoode Hall, Perell additionally approved $1 million in legal fees and assorted charges incurred during the litigation for plaintiff lawyers Peter Waldmann and Andrew Stein, plus a $10,000 honorarium to accident victim Cassie Hodge, the 46-year-old mother of two at the heart of the case.

Waldmann, who represented Hodge and the other class members, said the settlement is “a compromise,” but he is pleased the accident victims are getting some remedy.

A Star investigation that began in 2016 found personal injury lawyers in Ontario had routinely taken their fees then also taken the “costs,” which a Divisional Court judge had called “double dipping.” As a result, the Star story said, many Ontario residents had been overcharged thousands of dollars and likely did not know it.

On the heels of the Star’s findings, the Law Society of Ontario decided to make changes to the way personal injury lawyers can advertise their services, bill their clients and charge and collect referral fees.

“When this issue was first raised, it became clear that there was confusion regarding the interpretation of the Solicitors Act,” Jeff Neinstein said Wednesday. “We took these concerns very seriously. We worked collaboratively to ensure that these issues were responsibly addressed. We are proud of the work that we do and continue to promote access to justice.”

In his settlement approval order, Justice Perell said negotiations between both sides were “intensive.” He said the settlement is “a good result for the class particularly having regard to the litigation risks and the long litigation road that would await them.”

As part of the settlement, a class member could get 30 per cent of what Neinstein referred to on his accounts as costs, the court said, provided she or he signed or amended a contingency fee agreement with the firm after October 1, 2004 and paid their fees before December 9, 2015.

Their cases must also have settled for at least $40,000 and their bills included at least $15,000 for an amount the firm called “party and party costs,” “partial indemnity costs” or another term using equivalent language.

Perell said that he awarded Hodge the honorarium to pay her personal expenses during the case and “to acknowledge her extraordinary contribution.”

Hodge’s battle against Neinstein began in 2010 after the law firm settled her car accident case for $150,000, sending her a final account that included charges for “legal fees” of $30,326 and “costs” of $30,000. She was also charged for $48,924 of “disbursements,” charges incurred by the lawyer in the course of litigation, which included $4,008 for photocopies, $2,791 for “laser copies,” and $1,372 for “interest recovery,” according to an earlier appeal court ruling that upheld the certification of the class.

Hodge alleges she was left with a fraction of her settlement.

Hodge had retained the Neinstein firm after a 2002 accident that left her with a concussion, whiplash, a retinal tear, soft tissue injures and chronic pain.

“Justice is served,” Hodge said outside the courtroom after the hearing. “Now people are aware of what was happening at law firms, and they know that they do have recourse.”

Michele Henry is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @michelehenry

Kenyon Wallace is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @KenyonWallace or reach him via email: kwallace@thestar.ca



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Westmount Park Elementary School students to be temporarily relocated to 2 separate buildings – Montreal

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A contentious plan to split Westmount Park Elementary School students up during a two-year renovation blitz is officially moving forward.

The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) announced at a special meeting on Wednesday that students will be temporarily transferred to two different buildings for the duration of the project.

READ MORE: English Montreal School Board parents weigh in on disputed school moves

Students will be relocated to Marymount Academy in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and the former St. John Bosco Elementary School in Ville Émard for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years.

Both locations will house kindergarten to Grade 6 students in order not to split up siblings, according to the school board.

The $12.5-million overhaul of the elementary school, which was built in 1913, will fix major structural issues.

READ MORE: Parents voice concerns over relocation of students at Westmount Park School

The plan has been met with both praise and concern from parents at school board meetings. Some said they were worried about where their kids will be transferred and separated from their friends.

At a consultation meeting last week, parents of Marymount students also voiced concerns over taking in hundreds of Westmount Park students.

WATCH: Westmount Park Elementary School students will have to move out of their school for two years






New French immersion school delayed

After announcing last October it would open a new French immersion school in NDG in September 2019, the school board says those plans have now been pushed back.

The elementary school was slated to open at 4850 Coronation Ave. — but now that building could instead house students from three other EMSB schools that are currently overcrowded.

READ MORE: English Montreal School Board plans to open new French immersion school in NDG

The EMSB says it is considering its options and that it will consult with the schools and their committees.

A decision is expected to be made by the school board’s council of commissioners on Feb. 20.

— With files from Global’s Elysia Bryan Baynes

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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RCMP seek help finding Canadian actress and nephew ‘considered missing’ from Kamloops since Sunday

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Kamloops RCMP are asking for the public’s assistance locating a six-year-old boy and his 28-year-old aunt, actress Roseanne Supernault

RCMP say they received a report on Sunday to check on the well-being of Nikaeo Supernault who was being looked after by his aunt.

They say the boy and his aunt have not been in contact with the boy’s mother since Jan. 13, and the pair is « considered missing. »

Police say they believe the boy is with his aunt.

Roseanne Supernault, a Métis/Cree actress, has starred in several TV series, including Blackstone, Strange Empire and The Drive, as well as the independent film, Neither Wolf Nor Dog.

Metis/Cree actress Rosanne Supernault in the film Neither Wolf nor Dog that played in select theatres across Canada in 2017. (InYo Entertainment)

Police describe six-year-old Nikaeo as three feet six inches tall, 45 pounds with light brown hair, brown eyes and wearing a blue jacket, black pants and tan boots.

His aunt, Roseanne, is five feet seven inches tall, 190 pounds, dyed blonde hair, brown eyes, wearing a black jacket with white fur on the hood, jeans and black boots.

The Kamloops RCMP is asking anyone with information on their whereabouts to contact them at 1-250-828-3000 or make an anonymous report to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.



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