An incident caught on video outside a downtown Winners store is raising questions about the role of loss prevention officers at retail stores and how much physical force should be used, if any, to apprehend shoplifting suspects.
At around 4 p.m. on May 20 outside the College Park Winners, located near Yonge and College streets, Stephlynn Tee said she spotted a group of three individuals restraining a young man.
Tee told CP24.com that when she asked what was happening, she was told they were loss prevention officers and she should “stay away.”
“I had recently been shopping there. I was on my way home and suddenly this person was slammed into the wall and I had no idea what was happening,” Tee said.
“Once it looked like the man was being harmed… I decided to start recording and asking questions.”
In the video, which Tee shared on social media, three people dressed in regular clothes can be seen apprehending a man outside the store, holding his arms and covering his eyes.
At one point, the man begins shouting, “Don’t touch me,” as his hat is knocked to the ground.
A security guard can be heard on camera saying that the man was “shoplifting” and that he is “under arrest.”
“This has nothing to do with you… we are loss prevention,” Tee is told before they all disappear inside the building.
“The man is begging in the video. He seems like he needs help,” Tee said.
“I don’t know what happened in the store before he was outside but he really seemed like the victim of the scenario.”
She said she does not understand why loss prevention officers would have the authority to use that kind of physical force on a shoplifting suspect.
“Many stores have policies in place where loss prevention isn’t allowed to physically touch anyone,” she added.
In a statement sent to CP24.com on Thursday morning, a spokesperson for Winners said the company is “aware of the video.”
“As this is a matter of law enforcement, we respectfully defer any further comment to the Toronto Police Service,” the statement concluded.
Toronto police confirmed to CP24 that they were called to the store to investigate and an arrest was made. One person was charged with theft under $5,000, police said.
The spokesperson for Winners did not respond to questions about specific policies surrounding the conduct of loss prevention officers and also did not say whether they are employed by the store or a third-party company.
In the code of conduct outlined in the Private Security and Investigative Services Act, loss prevention officers in Ontario do not need to wear a uniform and can use equipment, such as handcuffs. They are also required to carry their licence with them while on duty and show their licence to anyone who asks to see it, including members of the public.
The code of conduct also indicates that all security guards must “refrain from exercising unnecessary force,” a directive that is not clearly defined.
Tee said she hopes the video sparks a more in-depth conversation about what is appropriate conduct for security guards.
“Even if someone is stealing, they are still a human being and they deserve to be treated like a human being. Objects can be replaced,” she said.
“I was really shook up having witnessed this violence in broad daylight.”