Stolen liquor fuels organized crime. We all pay for it.
Organized crime groups are coordinating brazen thefts of huge amounts of liquor at a time, which is then used as street-level currency and illegally sold on to smaller liquor stores, bars and restaurants at cut-rate prices.
The proceeds from selling stolen liquor support gang activity, including acts of violence, the illegal drug trade and exploitation of vulnerable people. That means higher policing costs and healthcare costs, increased property crime and more neighbourhoods where people just don’t feel safe anymore. The financial, societal and personal costs are something none of us can afford to ignore.
Meanwhile, people who are armed and backed by gangs are threatening and assaulting liquor store employees as they steal product to fuel this lucrative underground market
Secured entrances help stop the violence. The second it takes to scan your ID could save lives.
Look for the Legally Sourced Liquor badge at your favourite restaurants, bars and liquor stores. Establishments that are part of this program have committed to buying their product from legal sources only.
If you don’t see it, ask. You can also help raise awareness of this issue by talking to the stores, bars and restaurants you visit about where their liquor comes from. When customers show they care about ethics and integrity, that sends a message to business owners – you can make a difference by showing your concern for the harm caused by the illicit liquor market.
The following stores, restaurants and bars have taken the Legally Sourced Liquor pledge. If your local establishment isn’t on the map yet, consider starting a conversation about where their product comes from.
The Edmonton Police Service is actively working to solve this issue. If you suspect an establishment you know is selling stolen liquor, please help by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or submitting your anonymous tip online here.
Thousands of dollars’ worth of product is stolen during each theft, usually from larger liquor stores.
The people stealing liquor are often armed with bear spray, mace, knives or guns. The thefts have turned violent, compromising the safety of both employees and customers – many liquor store employees across Alberta have been threatened, assaulted and injured. No retail worker should have to face that kind of risk every time they report for a shift.
Measures have been introduced in many stores to prevent this kind of violence, and over 500 arrests have been made. But as long as criminal organizations can make this much revenue from selling stolen liquor, the thefts will continue with new perpetrators stepping in to replace the old ones. Committing violent thefts is one way for low-ranking members of these organizations to “move up” in the organization, and in some cases people who owe the gangs more money than they can pay – often people suffering from addictions who have racked up drug debts – are coerced into committing thefts as a way to repay what they owe.
The stolen product isn’t always re-sold right away. Instead, stolen bottles may change hands many times on the streets as they’re traded for other substances or services.
Stolen liquor may be traded for illegal drugs. People struggling with addiction who can’t come up with cash to pay their dealer are often forced to pay in stolen liquor instead.
Stolen bottles may also be used to pay “rent” in a gang-owned flophouse. These houses are dangerous places. They’re often unfit for human habitation according to health regulations, and assaults and overdoses are common. As illegal activity from these houses spills out onto the streets, neighbours are exposed to violence, disorder and other hazards such as used needles.
The people who are staying in these houses, and even the people committing the thefts, have often experienced severe trauma and are living with serious mental health and addiction issues. Criminal organizations take advantage and exploit these people for their own financial reward.
Eventually, criminal organizations convert stolen liquor into cash by selling it back to liquor stores, bars and restaurants that are willing to look the other way. Stolen bottles are typically sold at 50-75% of what they would cost to purchase from a legitimate supplier. This means significant savings for unscrupulous business owners, and a huge profit for the gangs – since they didn’t pay anything for the liquor in the first place, they can pocket the full price they receive for it.
This stage of the cycle is what drives the other two. Criminal organizations coordinate these thefts because they make a lot of money from re-selling stolen product – and they can only make money this way because someone is willing to buy it. Business owners who care more about their bottom line than the devastating harm caused by these organizations create the incentive that keeps the cycle going.
To customers of these establishments, it’s not obvious that anything is wrong. The stolen liquor looks and tastes just the same as it would if it came from legal sources. But there are still things you can do, as a customer, to help curb this cycle of crime and violence.
Look for the Legally Sourced Liquor badge the next time you’re treating yourself to a drink. Businesses that display this badge have made a public commitment to buying their inventory from legal sources only. And if you don’t see the badge at your local liquor store, bar or restaurant, ask about where that business gets its product.
If their sources are illegal, you might not get an honest answer. But even if you don’t, it shows business owners who buy stolen liquor that people are watching. The more attention we all call to this issue, the more it becomes part of the public conversation, the riskier it becomes for businesses to keep doing this – and when businesses aren’t buying anymore, the driving force behind these thefts disappears.