The LCBO is scrambling to reassure staff it is ramping up deterrence efforts after a weekend expose showing the scale of theft at the Ontario liquor retailer, the Star has learned.
In an internal memo distributed to staff on Saturday following the Star’s revelation that Toronto LCBO outlets have been targeted more than 9,000 times by thieves since 2014 — often in broad daylight and sometimes using duffel bags, backpacks and suitcases to maximize their loot — a senior company executive acknowledged the problem but maintained LCBO management now is spending more on security to ensure the safety of workers and customers.
“Shop theft is a reality we have to deal with at all of our stores across the province and much of what is reported in the article is accurate — we have seen increase in shop theft, with the majority happening in urban areas,” Rafik Louli, VP, Retail Operations, told staff.
“What is not included as thoroughly in the (Toronto Star) article is what we are doing about it … While we never encourage you to physically engage with a perpetrator when an active shop theft is taking place, however, we are reacting to shop theft with increased spending and theft protection tactics,” said the memo, which was leaked to the Star by an LCBO insider.
“We have increased our guarding and investigator expenditures, as well as CCTV technology, in-store deterrents, and always collaborate with local police on active investigations.”
Since Saturday’s article was published, the Star has been deluged with eyewitness anecdotes of LCBO theft from customers throughout Ontario, many sharing stories of shocking scenes in which teams of two or more bandits fill multiple bags before breezing out the door, laden with premium liquors.
That response now includes a growing number of LCBO insiders — as of 5 p.m. Sunday, 11 current and six former LCBO workers had reached out, confirming the thrust of the Star’s reporting and offering more stories besides. Each asked for anonymity, fearing reprisal.
One of the active-duty LCBO sources who emailed on Sunday, we now can confirm, is the original whistleblower — the author an of unsigned letter mailed to the Star via Canada Post weeks ago, conveying the morale-crushing desperation of front line workers who fear the surge in theft will spill over into outright violence. In an email exchange, the whistleblower, who asked to be identified as John Doe, expressed gratitude and urged continued vigilance.
“I am grateful for the story and the outpouring of people coming forward and telling their stories,” John Doe wrote. “I was at work yesterday and I saw the generic statement (from VP Louli). They say what they want you to hear and they do nothing. They do this and they think it will go away. Well not this time.”
Several of the LCBO sources who contacted the Star detailed a previously unreported dimension to LCBO theft in which thieves go beyond the display shelves, stepping directly into employee-only areas to help themselves to whole cases of liquor, sometimes in full view of stockroom staff. “This is a call for help by some employees who are afraid that someone might lose their life before anything is done,” wrote one.
Upon receipt of the leaked internal memo, the Star sought official comment from the LCBO, asking that the corporation quantify the increases in spending on security and theft-deterrance measures described in the note. As of Sunday night, the LCBO has not responded.
In other developments, the broader public reaction to the Star’s report — which included several firsthand accounts of LCBO customers intervening physically to halt thefts-in-progress, sparked across-the-board alarm among the front line workers who spoke to us.
Said one insider: “There’s something broken here that needs to be fixed — but it is absolutely not the public’s job to fix it. Any customer who tries to intervene is putting themselves and everyone else at risk. It’s the worst idea. Please don’t.”
Mitch Potter is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites