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Opponents of increased security at Winnipeg’s Millennium Library protest with drag queen story time

Opponents of airport-style security measures at the Millennium Library gathered in its lobby for a peaceful protest and drag queen performance Sunday.
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Opponents of airport-style security measures at the Millennium Library gathered in its lobby for a peaceful protest and drag queen performance Sunday.

The event was held to mark the one-year anniversary of the new protocols amid a week of actions over the measures.

Five drag queens and two drag kings read storybooks to about two dozen children, parents and supporters of Millennium For All — an activist group that has called for the removal of the beefed-up security since the city started searching library-goers last February.

READ MORE: Line-ups greet patrons as Millennium Library implements new security procedures

Patrons who try to enter the downtown library first give their bags over for searches while security guards wave metal detectors over them.

At the time, the city said the new measures were meant to keep the library safe while keeping weapons, drugs and alcohol out of the public building.

However, that doesn’t wash for Joe Curnow, a University of Manitoba academic and a Millennium For All organizer.

Curnow criticized the city’s security measures, calling them oppressive, racist and classist, adding that Indigenous, Black and homeless people are singled out.

“It’s an attack on the public mission of the library — it’s a sacred space for communities — so it’s particularly egregious that this kind of securitization has happened at this library,” Curnow said. “Winnipeg is the only library in Canada that is doing this.”

Curnow also noted that visits to the library dropped by about 29 per cent since the measures were introduced, according to the city’s data.

READ MORE: Data shows drop in incidents, visitors at Millennium Library since screening measures introduced

In 2019, 609,000 people visited the Millennium Library, which is about 250,000 fewer than in 2018.

The number of incidents in the library — that includes serious incidents like violence or crime as well as medical issues, lost children and general inappropriate behavior — dropped from 558 in 2018 to 313 in 2019, according to the city’s data.

The drag queens, who regularly read books aloud to kids at the library prior to the new security measures, quit appearing at the Millennium Library after the protocols were put in place.

Sunday, however, they were back, but this time they read in the lobby in front of the security desk rather than a reading room.

“We’re here to protest and to just make our voices heard in a really fun and cool way,” said drag queen Miss Assume Gender prior to the performance.