The video is startling. Four people enter a liquor store, each holding a duffle bag. As they’re filling the bags with bottles of alcohol, five more people join in.
After swarming the store, the group walks out without trying to hide the fact that their bags are filled with unpaid merchandise.
It is just one instance of a slew of brazen liquor store robberies happening across Alberta.
According to the Alberta Liquor Store Association, there have been 5,000 liquor store robberies in Edmonton in 2019. They say that’s a 300 per cent increase over 2018.
“It’s not stopping; it’s going full steam ahead,” association president Ivonne Martinez said.
Alcanna, which owns Liquor Depot, reports some of its stores are being targeted six or seven times in the same day.
The suspects will change clothes or face coverings and go to several stores within a small radius.
“This isn’t shoplifters, someone putting a mickey into their coat and hiding it. This is organized crime,” Alcanna CEO James Burns explained.
Watch below (Sept. 25): The CEO of a liquor store chain says northeast Edmonton has been targeted for robberies by organized crime groups a lot – along with stores near Groat Road. The Alberta Liquor Store Association says part of the problem is the lack of distance between stores. Kendra Slugoski has more.
The Alberta Liquor Store Association has been in contact with police across the province to discuss the issue.
Martinez says they’ve been told there are two gangs responsible for the robberies and that they turn around and sell the alcohol for drugs or guns.
“They’ll come in with shopping lists of what they’re going to rob. They have nightclubs and some shady liquor stores that buy them and it’s used as a currency in criminal activities,” Burns told Global News.
Burns said the brazen thefts are also becoming more violent.
One video taken from inside a Liquor Depot shows one person stand at the front door holding a can of bear spray. A second person goes into the store, gathering up bottles of alcohol. Two staff members can be seen watching from a distance. As the person inside the store leaves, they attack the employees with bear spray.
At many liquor stores, staff have been told not to engage with the suspects.
In another video, a Liquor Depot employee can be seen going after a suspect. A violent fight ensues.
“It’s obviously very expensive just losing the product. It’s not really insured. But much more importantly than that, it’s terrible for our staff morale,” Burns expressed. “They see these people come in just wantonly disregarding the rules of society.”
There are concerns the danger could escalate.
“The police have actually told us that it’s just a matter of time that we have somebody die on the job,” said Martinez.
Both Martinez and Burns said they are at a loss for how to stop the crimes.
They told Global News they are pleased with how police have responded but that the sheer number of robberies makes it hard to catch all the suspects.
Burns said he would like to see liquor stores and nightclubs that are buying the stolen goods shut down to put an end to the demand for the product.
“I don’t think there’s one magic answer,” he said.