Employee assaulted at Shoppers Drug Mart in Toronto as violence against Canadian retail workers rises

After working at Shoppers Drug Mart in Scarborough for 32 years, Gavin Rampersaud said his life changed forever when he was tackled by a shoplifter in March 2021.

“He shoved me into the window and I went down and hit my head and I said ‘Oh my God, my neck is broken,” Rampersaud told CTV News Toronto.

Police were called and a 21-year-old man was charged with robbery, mischief and three counts of failing to comply with probation.

Rampersaud is still recovering from the assault and said he now must use a walker and take various medications to help him with the pain.

“I have three swollen vertebrae in my neck and I was recovering from throat cancer,” he said.

“I used to play sports, cricket and soccer, but I can’t play them anymore. I’m in a terrible mental state.”

The Retail Council of Canada said from 2019 to now, there has been an increase in violence and aggravated offenses of 150 to 200 per cent against front line retail staff, security personnel and customers.

Retail workers say they’re facing more abuse than ever before with more customers yelling and using foul language. There’s also been an increase in shoplifting, which has led to violent incidents where some employees are being seriously hurt.

Rui Rodrigues, executive advisor for loss prevention and risk management with the Retail Council of Canada said “the aggression is definitely higher, because people have been pent up and fed up.”

Rodrigues said abuse and violence towards retail workers worsened during the pandemic – possibly because customers could wear masks and hide their identity, but he notes, even as the masks come off, the abuse for some workers continues.

Stores like Home Depot now have signs posted warning aggressive and abusive behavior will not be tolerated.

Rodrigues said some customers may be suffering from mental health issues or drug addiction, while others are looking to shoplift items.

There have been many cases of retail violence caught on camera. In 2018, in Brampton, a woman assaulted a TIm Horton’s employee, pulling her hair and punching her face, after climbing through the drive through window. This happened after she was told she couldn’t use the washroom because it was 3:30 in the morning.

In Vancouver in Oct. 2021, a woman threw hot coffee at a Tim Horton’s employee after allegedly yelling racial slurs.

In Nov. 2020, a British Columbian Walmart employee was attacked due to a dispute with another man while trying to enforce B.C.’s mandatory mask policy.

Also in B.C., in Oct. 2021, a man entered a Telus store in Nanaimo with a carton of eggs and began throwing them at employees, saying he was concerned about 5G technology.

“There’s also an increase of weapons, some guns, bear spray, knives and machetes. We are seeing an unprecedented amount of violent offenses against front line workers” said Rodrigues.

The Retail Council of Canada said it’ss currently speaking with governments across the country about the role the justice system plays in curbing retail security incidents and in treating them seriously when they do occur.

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