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The Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation is being told to find opportunities for increased private-sector participation in liquor retail and distribution. (File image of bottles on display in a Liquor Mart.)

WINNIPEG -- A Winnipeg man pleaded guilty Wednesday for his role earlier this year in a Liquor Mart robbery that involved holding out a piece of metal meant to look like a gun.

The incident is just one example of what’s become an alarming trend of brazen thefts and robberies at liquor stores.

Reginald Ronald Desjarlais pleaded guilty to robbery with an imitation firearm.

Seated in the prisoner’s box appearing before a judge in court, Desjarlais agreed with his lawyer Matt Gould when asked if he understood the implications of his guilty plea.

Gould told court a bottle of alcohol was stolen and that the offence was made more serious because a piece of metal – the folded burner of a barbecue – was held out to look like a handgun.

“Are you pleading guilty because you’re actually guilty of what we talked about today — the imitation weapon used in the robbery, in terms of this theft of the alcohol?” he asked Desjarlais.

“Yes,” Desjarlais answered.

Winnipeg police said officers were called on Jan. 22nd to a robbery at a Liquor Mart on Portage Avenue involving three men.

Officers said one man produced what appeared to be a firearm and several bottles were stolen.

Three weeks later investigators located and arrested Desjarlais, 28.

A pre-sentence and Gladue report will be prepared before Desjarlais is sentenced.

Court heard the offence carries a minimum penalty of one year.

Brazen thefts and robberies in Manitoba Liquor Marts have been happening 10 to 20 times a day all under the watch of state-of-the-art surveillance systems.

The evidence captured on video can help police investigate and charge suspects who then end up in court.

The consequences for people arrested depend on the severity of the crime.

Chris Gamby with the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba said for basic shoplifting cases that result in police charging a suspect for theft under $5000, jail time is unlikely. 

The offence carries a maximum sentence of two years in custody for more severe cases.

“Liquor Marts have high-definition quality video,” said Gamby. “I think that it’s likely in many of these cases, especially when there’s brazenness to turn around and try and sell them [bottles of liquor] on Facebook later that they’re going to get caught and they may in fact look at a period of incarceration.

“This is a problem and I’m not surprised that the public has taken notice.”

The consequences become more serious when theft becomes robbery.

“A robbery really is a theft where violence is used or threatened immediately before or after and it is a dramatically different offence in terms of what an offender may look at for sentencing than simply a theft or even just an assault,” said Gamby. “A robbery on the other hand, now you’re likely looking at a potentially lengthy period of incarceration.”