Staff at the welfare office on Rorie Street repeatedly had their demands for improved safety fall on deaf ears in the 15 months leading up to Monday’s stabbing of a security guard, sources tell the Free Press.

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This article was published 18/1/2019 (1257 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Staff at the welfare office on Rorie Street repeatedly had their demands for improved safety fall on deaf ears in the 15 months leading up to Monday’s stabbing of a security guard, sources tell the Free Press.

The situation has grown increasingly out of control and violent during that time period, with growing frustration among staff over the province’s inaction, according to a source with knowledge of the working conditions at the Manitoba employment and income assistance (EIA) office.

"If I bumped into a stranger in the morning, and they asked me if I’ll live or die today at work, I would say, ‘I don’t know.’ I’m not trying to say I work every minute in fear, but there are legitimate safety concerns that are not being dealt with and now they’ve escalated," the source said Thursday.

"Something happens at the (Manitoba legislative building) and they get metal detectors practically the next day. Someone could have died Monday. Nothing happens."

After the provincial government sought to consolidate EIA services by closing down a Main Street office, there has been growing violence at the Rorie Street location, multiple sources told the Free Press.

One decided to speak out after learning the provincial government — in a written statement Wednesday to the Free Press — had denied there were concerns at the location.

Whether an outright lie, or simply a lack of understanding of the on-the-ground situation, "I was angry, very angry," the source said.

"They aren’t working in the office. Maybe their heads are a little too high up in the clouds and they don’t understand how serious it is," the source said.

"I have experienced the difference between what happens and what the spokeswoman said. What she said was totally and entirely false. There are safety concerns. They’re not being dealt with. It’s getting worse."

In a memo to staff Thursday, the provincial government announced it would temporarily increase security at the office, in the form of contract workers.

However, the memo made clear any long-term changes to security protocols remain up in the air.

"Understandably, the issues we have faced and the events of this week have left many of us raw, vulnerable, exposed and feeling less safe," the memo reads.

"Moving to operational updates, we have been able to contract additional security personnel for the remainder of this week and all of next week while we look to short-, mid- and long-term recommendations for our ongoing safety conversations."

The response was tepid and unacceptable, the source said, saying there was an incident 15 months ago when a member of the public jumped the protective barrier at the office and attacked a staff member.

"The added security guards should be permanent. That just disappoints me. It should have been permanent last time... They should have put up a better barrier," the source said.

"Now, somebody’s been stabbed. Nothing happens. Their response to this will be directly commensurate to the value they place on the lives of the staff members working there. Somebody could have died on Monday."

Thursday’s memo mentioned the Free Press and — in an apparent attempt to circle the wagons — reminded staff of their obligations under the civil service’s social media use guidelines and employee code of conduct.

Louis-Nicolas Lamoureux-Gagne, 47, has been charged in the attack on the office security guard Monday.

He’s accused of jumping the counter at the office, bypassing a protective barrier that separates staff from the public, pulling out a knife and stabbing the guard.

He’s been charged with aggravated assault and possession of a weapon, and is detained at the Winnipeg Remand Centre.

The guard was reported to be in stable condition Tuesday.

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.