City police are seeking two male suspects for a violent attack in a downtown Portage Avenue bus shelter.
A 19-year-old man and a 50-year-old woman remained in hospital in stable condition following a "serious assault with a weapon" Monday night inside a bus shelter outside Portage Place mall, Winnipeg Police Service spokeswoman Const. Dani McKinnon said Tuesday.
Investigators with the major crimes unit are interviewing witnesses and will be reviewing security video in the area, McKinnon said. "At this stage, we don’t know what precipitated the attack."
Police said it was likely the assault victims were using the structure as a temporary shelter, and were not waiting for a bus.
"In our experience, it has been one of the prime locations in the city where homeless people are using it as a temporary shelter," said WPS spokesman Const. Rob Carver.
On Sunday, a woman died in hospital after emergency responders found her in medical distress at the same bus shelter. Police said the woman’s death was not considered suspicious.
The freestanding, heated shelter replaced a larger structure attached to the mall that was demolished in July 2019, following years of complaints it was a hotbed for violence and drug dealing.
The demolition came just days before an Alberta man was sentenced to 91/2 years in prison for an unprovoked, meth-fuelled attack in the bus shelter on a 17-year-old international student.
Joshua Zachary Snakeskin had been released from Stony Mountain Institution just four days before the Jan. 23, 2018 attack. The victim had been in Canada less than a month.
Police would not confirm whether the new structure has been the source of more or less service calls, compared to other bus shelters in the city.
"Overall, there has been a lot of stories on the bus shelters and different opinions as to what has caused an increased amount of people in the shelters," McKinnon said. "We aren’t going to comment that this particular bus shelter is a hot spot.
"It’s in the middle of downtown... It attracts a lot of attention, a lot of passing public, both using the bus and seemingly not using the bus."
McKinnon said demolition of the old attached bus shelter appears to have redistributed the number of people who used to gather there.
"I think there has been changes both for the positive and the negative," she said. "Overall, that was a larger area of congregation... and now perhaps people have resorted to dotting themselves in individual shelters along the way."
Standing outside the shopping centre Tuesday afternoon, Emily Pilon said she tries to avoid downtown as much as possible.
"All the violence that goes down here, especially at night — even a lot during the day, too — I just try to keep my distance," Pilon, 22, said as city workers cleaned up blood and debris from inside the bus shelter.
Pilon said since the arrival of the pandemic, she has avoided using the Transit stop structures.
"With everything going on with COVID, especially in the cold, when no one has anywhere to go, the last resort is the bus shelters," she said.
Lilian Groom said she sometimes ends up sleeping in bus shelters, and was not concerned about reports of violence.
"When I go to sleep and wake up the same way, I’m happy," she said.
Groom said she uses the shelters to "relax in and get out of the cold," and sees more people doing the same.
"You gotta do what you gotta do — everybody’s gotta stay secure, happy," she said. "To tell you the truth, I’d invest in more homeless shelters to make sure they have more places (to go)."
A Winnipeg Transit spokeswoman would not comment if the bus shelter was a trouble spot, and referred a Free Press reporter to city police.
"With regard to people who are not using the bus congregating in shelters, Transit inspectors who come across such people assess the situation, provide information about emergency shelters that are open, and engage emergency responders if necessary to ensure safety," Megan Benedictson said in an email.
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