Inner City Shoplifting and Wab Kinew

Winnipeg, Manitoba is being hit with an epidemic of shoplifting that appears to be out of control. Thieves openly steal expensive items, such as frozen meat, from inner city food […]
Published on June 12, 2024

Winnipeg, Manitoba is being hit with an epidemic of shoplifting that appears to be out of control. Thieves openly steal expensive items, such as frozen meat, from inner city food stores. Shelves are stripped bare in what are more accurately described as robberies than shoplifting. Victims describe brazen thefts by entitled thieves who become indignant when caught in the act. One store employee, who tried to stop a theft, was told “You are on Treaty 1 territory”. The stores that are hardest hit are often owned by immigrant families who have worked very hard to build their modest businesses. Some have had to close, as a result of the unchecked criminality, and others will follow.

Police protection is weak. Even in rare cases where culprits are caught and prosecuted, sentences are minimal.

The problem of brazen theft from Winnipeg liquor stores reached such a serious level in the recent past that customers at urban liquor stores in Manitoba are now allowed to enter the store only after lining up single file, and producing identification. Liquor prices have risen as a result, because special government employees must be hired to sit at the door to inspect ID’s. Customers must line up outside, even on the coldest winter days, because freeloaders choose to steal liquor. And everyone – including the police – are too shy to confront the robbers.

Other western cities, such as Regina, Saskatoon and Thunder Bay are having similar problems. Even small cities, such as Wetaskiwin, Alberta, are hard hit.

The common element is that all of these cities and towns have significant indigenous populations who migrated to the cities from largely dysfunctional reserves, where attitudes of dependency, entitlement and victimhood prevail. Most arrive poorly educated, with few job skills, but with an expectation that they will be provided for. They proceed to live rough lives on the mean streets of these cities. Many drift to shoplifting and other crime. The inner city thieves are disproportionately from this demographic.

This problem is only made worse by gullible writers and politicians who make excuses for the thieves. Their excuse is that these people are disadvantaged, so they are less than fully responsible for their criminal conduct. Some sympathetic souls go even further, and suggest that these indigenous shoplifters are simply taking back what is rightfully theirs as “reparations” because the shop owners are on “stolen land”. They argue that these indigenous people are victims of a system that gives them no chance to succeed, or that they are suffering from the “intergenerational trauma” presumably caused by the fact that 1 in 6 indigenous children attended residential schools in the past.

The shoplifters readily adopt these excuses, and claim to be victims of “systemic racism”.

But, wait a minute! Isn’t the Premier of Manitoba, Wab Kinew, indigenous? Isn’t he a successful, law-abiding person? And wouldn’t most indigenous Canadians laugh at the idea that they had to steal to survive? How is it that Wab Kinew, and the many other successful indigenous Canadians manage their lives just fine while the shoplifters cannot?

The answer is that Wab succeeded the way all successful people do. He went to school, worked hard, and went where the jobs are. He was fortunate to have competent, caring parents who understood the importance of education and hard work. His parents also understood that assimilation (or, if you prefer, integration) was essential for their son to succeed. Wab’s father had a rough time in residential school, but used what he learned to raise a son who has become a provincial premier.

 The fact that Kinew is fully assimilated does not prevent him from celebrating his indigenous heritage. Recently, a video of him energetically performing a prairie chicken dance went viral. It showed indigenous youth that they too can be both successful Canadians – and proudly indigenous – at the same time.

It is clear from watching him dancing so vigorously that he would have been a formidable warrior in pre-contact indigenous hunting culture. Colonialism ended that possibility. But it is equally clear that he, and the other indigenous people who were willing to learn the new ways, received a lot in return from the settlers. He is now an articulate, literate, thoroughly modern man, thanks to “settler colonialism”. Colonialism has also given him an expected lifespan more than double that of yesterday’s hunter-gatherers. Colonialism gave at least as much as it took from him.

Kinew’s memoir, “The Reason You Walk” describes someone determined to live his life not as a victim, but as a confident indigenous Canadian.

He built his own life – making mistakes along the way – but learning from those mistakes, and is now the leader of a province – and lauded as a possible future prime minister. He offers no apologies to critics who suggest that an indigenous person who is successful is somehow “selling out” indigenous people. His famous reply to that old saw is “Aboriginal success is the best form of reconciliation”.

Don’t expect to find Wab Kinew stealing frozen hamburger from a Food Fare store anytime soon.

But here’s the lesson indigenous youth can learn from the example Wab Kinew, and other successful indigenous people have set: “If they can do it, so can you”. They should also tell the apologists who want to give them tired excuses – excusing theft as “reparations” for perceived past wrongs, or “intergenerational trauma” – that they, like Wab, refuse to live their lives as “victims”.

In short, the solution to the shoplifting problem is not to condone theft. It is not to treat criminals differently because they are indigenous. It is not to offer them excuses. The solution is to create more Wab Kinews.

And that’s up to Indigenous parents. No government can do that for them. For many families, like Wab’s, that will include the difficult decision to move from dead-end reserves.  But if they have the same commitment to their children’s education and upbringing that Wab’s parents had there is no reason that they can’t raise successful children in this country.

Long before he became Manitoba’s premier, Wab Kinew, regularly entertained listeners on CBC Radio. He was a refreshing, common sense voice, and always refused to play the victim. He never failed to remind young indigenous people that Canada worked just fine for him.

And, with a bit of grit and hard work, it can work for them too.

 

Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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