On December 11, 2022, four youths were involved in a violent altercation with 28-year-old Tyree Cayer on the first floor of the Millennium Public Library in downtown Winnipeg. During the conflict, Cayer was stabbed. He was then taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead. This tragic incident of violence was recorded as the 51st homicide of 2022 in Winnipeg.

The Millennium Library closed following the homicide and began a “phased” reopening on December 23, 2022. The library fully reopened on Monday, January 23, 2023, with new security measures in place in advance of what the city refers to as a “comprehensive risk assessment and safety audit”. These measures include the presence of police officers and security guards as well as metal detectors on an “interim basis.”

The new measures echo the security measures originally instituted by the library in 2019, which included metal detectors, bag checks, and individual screening of all patrons. When the increased security measures were first instituted in 2019, they were exalted as a crime-prevention mechanism. However, the reduction that occurred in library incidents after the introduction of these measures correlated to a sharp decrease in usage of library services. In other words, fewer incidents occurred because fewer people were accessing the library.

The new measures in place at the Millennium Library are high-cost and highly-punitive tools that serve to perpetuate a facade of safety. They will not contribute to a safer community long-term—at best, they will only displace incidents elsewhere; at worst, they intensify, rather than ameliorate, deeply-rooted social issues. Patrons and staff members alike deserve not only to feel safe, but be safe in the Millennium branch. To facilitate a truly safe space for every individual using the library, whether patron or staff, a much more significant investment is required.

The installation of security measures at the Millennium Library is a product of a broader carceral culture which has normalized the institutionalization of policing and the presence of invasive security technologies in public and private spaces. This climate of so-called “crime control” manifests itself in the hiring of private security and police officers to guard grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor stores, hockey arenas, and thrift shops—and now, even libraries, in part thanks to the fact that the city’s security audit is being conducted by GardaWorld, a large private security corporation which clearly has a profit-based interest in a highly-securitized outcome.

The effects of these high-surveillance conditions are undoubtedly worst felt by the Black and Indigenous members of our community, and even more so for those who are unhoused. Reports of Indigenous community members being racially profiled by police while shopping continue to abound. In the cold weather, warm public spaces are few and far between, and most patrolled by security guards who enforce “no loitering” rules with violence and threats. These surveillance efforts are specifically designed to push marginalized and unhoused individuals out of public existence, leaving them even more vulnerable.

The Millennium Library is one of the few accessible indoor spaces downtown that until now has remained mostly unaffected by surveillance culture. This means that, like other libraries, it is frequently called upon to play the role of community catchall. However, library staff are often not equipped to respond appropriately to tense situations, which can lead to trauma and further harm. The responsibility of handling these situations should not have to fall to library workers in the first place.

Neither, however, should this responsibility belong to the police. A police presence in the library will alienate library patrons and staff who feel unsafe around police officers. Winnipeg’s chief administrative officer, Michael Jack, defended the new security measures by arguing that nobody would tolerate “weapons within their workplace,” but this reasoning fails to consider that police officers also carry weapons—and, in fact, are notorious for unnecessary use of those weapons. If the goal is to reduce the number of incidents within the library, police presence is not an effective solution.

So if police presence, security guards, and metal detectors won’t create true safety at the library, what will?

When it comes to fostering community safety, the value of the Community Connections space should not be understated. The space offers access to a variety of useful amenities, as well as Community Crisis Workers and opportunities to meet with local organizations such as Downtown Community Safety Partnership and Resource Assistance for Youth. Each of these utilities contribute much more to community safety than metal detectors ever could.

Currently, the Community Connections space is closed indefinitely—Jack made the city’s priorities in this regard clear, stating, “We focused on … getting the library proper open as quickly as we could. Community Connections, that discussion will take place later.” When open, the space’s hours are limited exclusively to weekdays; notably, the stabbing took place on a Sunday. Further funding the Community Connections space and its workers, as opposed to altogether-ineffective “security” measures, will have a significant impact on safety within both the library and our city’s downtown.

Sourcing this funding may seem an impossible task, given that the library has been dealing with staff shortages for years. It is but one of many community facilities struggling to provide adequately to Winnipeg’s people in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The police, on the other hand, do not suffer from any such lack of resources. In 2020, 26.6% ($304 million) of the total Winnipeg budget was allocated to policing, in contrast to the 10% allocated to all community services. In 2022, the police share became 26.8% ($320 million). This increase ensured it remained the highest such proportion of any major city in so-called Canada. Additionally, the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) has a pattern of overspending its budget nearly every year without fail (in 2022 alone, police overspent the budget by $4 million), further inflating the already-astronomical monetary cost that policing has on Winnipeg’s residents. In short, police are receiving almost a third of Winnipeg’s resources while community members must fight bitterly to receive the help they need.

This lack of access to community services especially exacerbates the harm of surveillance culture on youths, such as those involved in Cayer’s death. The incarceration of youth, as with all incarceration, is an act of state violence. Over 80% of incarcerated youth in Manitoba are Indigenous, a statistic which speaks to the racism and colonialism inherent to carceral structures. As opposed to a continual reliance on police and other carceral institutions, community advocates demand harm reduction, youth housing, and gang intervention—and, perhaps most importantly, community support and care—to respond to the conditions that breed youth violence.

Ultimately, the death of Tyree Cayer is a manifestation of a dangerous, oppressive political climate that funnels far more money into policing, high-tech security tools, and other “crime control” responses than the resources necessary to ensure true safety in our communities. Time and time again, police demonstrate that they do not prevent harm, yet they and other methods of “crime deterrence” are allotted endless amounts of money while crucial community services are underfunded and left to flounder. It is far past time for our city to approach safety and violence prevention from a different perspective.