A pilot project that saw three Edmonton liquor stores outfitted with ID scanners to prevent theft will expand to include six more stores next month.

Four Calgary stores will also be adding the so-called “controlled entrances” as part of the expansion.

The additional security is intended to curb what Edmonton police say is a chronic citywide issue, where stolen liquor is being used as currency in exchange for illegal drugs, shelter, and cash.

The Edmonton Police Service said officers have responded to an average of 15 liquor thefts per day in 2020.

“There is a need to act now because I can assure you we’re trending towards something grievous,” said Cst. Ben Davis.

Davis detailed one recent example from last Thursday that saw a southwest Edmonton liquor store employee bear sprayed after asking a group of customers for ID. The group then robbed the store and ran away.

In other instances, staff, customers and responding officers have been stabbed, choked, threatened and had guns pointed at them, Davis said.

“Their threshold for violence is very low,” said Davis of the people committing the offences.

Despite the rash of liquor thefts, police say the three stores with ID scanners installed at their entrances have seen a 93 per cent drop in calls year-over-year, from 592 combined total incidents in 2019 to 36 in 2020.

Davis noted that all liquor stores saw a drop-off in crime during the pandemic while Alberta public health restrictions were most stringent. He added the pre-pandemic decrease in crime at controlled stores was 85 per cent.


It costs roughly $2,000 to outfit a liquor store with the scanning technology, according to Alcanna Inc., the retailer helping spearhead the pilot, which launched in January 2020.

At that time, Alcanna said it wanted the pilot to immediately include nine stores, but scaled back to three when Alberta’s privacy commissioner launched an investigation looking into whether the scanners violate provincial privacy laws.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) said Tuesday that the investigation is still ongoing.

“We plan to issue a report publicly in the coming weeks when the investigation is complete,” wrote OIPC spokesperson Scott Sibbald in an email to CTV News Edmonton.

Alcanna liquor store brands include Liquor Depot, Ace Liquor and Wine and Beyond.

“This is much more about public safety and the safety of our employees than it is about dollars for us,” said Alcanna CEO James Burns.

Burns said he has had meetings with provincial officials regarding the technology, developed by Patronscan, but said Alcanna is not formally calling on the government to make it mandatory.

“If the government chooses to assist in some way, that would surely be welcomed by the company,” Burns said.

Edmonton’s police chief is being more direct and asking for government support to outfit all liquor stores with controlled entrances.

“Without proper government support to ensure a uniform application of this initiative, we risk displacing victimization, which also isn’t acceptable,” read a quote from Dale McFee in an EPS news release.

The release noted that Manitoba has had success with controlled entrances at Winnipeg liquor stores

Asked about the potential of government support in such an initiative, Alberta Justice sent CTV News Edmonton a statement which read, in part:

“The provincial government is helping the liquor retailing sector with devising effective solutions against theft, but the province’s fiscal situation doesn’t allow for paying for security measures for private businesses.”