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

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

“He pushed me against the window and I fell and hit my head and I was like, ‘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 breach of probation.

Rampersaud is still recovering from the assault and said he must now use a walker and take various medications to help 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 football, but I can’t play them anymore. I’m in a terrible state of mind.”

The Retail Council of Canada said that from 2019 to now, there has been a 150 to 200 percent increase in violence and aggravated crimes against front-line retail staff, security personnel and customers.

Retail workers say they face more abuse than ever with more customers yelling and using foul language. There has also been an increase in theft, leading to violent incidents in which some employees have been seriously injured.

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

Rodrigues said abuse and violence toward retail workers worsened during the pandemic, possibly because customers were able to wear masks and hide their identity, but notes that even when masks are removed, abuse continues for some workers.

Stores like Home Depot now have signs warning that 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 employee, pulling his hair and punching him in the face, after climbing through his front window. This happened after she was told that she couldn’t use the bathroom because it was 3:30 in the morning.

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

In November 2020, a Walmart employee in British Columbia was attacked due to a dispute with another man while trying to enforce BC’s mandatory mask policy.

Also in BC, in October 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 is also an increase in weapons, some pistols, bear spray, knives and machetes. We are seeing an unprecedented amount of violent crime against frontline workers,” Rodrigues said.

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

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