Shoplifting, also known as “boosting” or taking a “five-finger discount” may sound less serious than robbery or theft, but it can have very serious consequences, including jail time and a criminal record. Taking goods from a store without paying is stealing. Because shoplifting usually involves surreptitiously placing smaller items in pockets, under clothes, or in a bag, the stolen goods tend to be worth less than $5000.
In our Criminal Code, the crime of Shoplifting falls under the offence of Theft under $5000. In the scheme of things, it is not usually considered one of the more serious offences. However, in some circumstances, shoplifting charges can lead to serious consequences, including jail. Even short of jail, the consequences of being arrested for shoplifting can be serious and long-lasting. For example, if you are convicted of any criminal offence, including Theft under $5000, you will get a criminal record that will probably dog you for life. Also many retailers or sellers send demand letters threatening a civil court action unless you pay a “restitution” of several hundred dollars. Pay them nothing !
In Canada, shoplifting charges are codified in the Criminal Code and generally come in three different forms:
Here are the specific criminal code shoplifting provisions along with explanations of when police typically choose to include these charges on the appearance notice (Form 9).
Theft under $5000
This is the most common charge associated with shoplifting related incidents. The term theft is generally defined in Section 322 and the specific sentencing provision for under $5000 is found in Section 334 (b).
Section 334 (b)
334 Except where otherwise provided by law, everyone who commits theft
A fraud under five thousand dollars offence is typically of a lower scale and can range in sophistication. Fraud under five thousand dollars usually proceeds under summary conviction (Criminal Code, s. 380(b)(ii)) and dependent on the circumstances of the offence, may or may not carry with it a sentence which includes imprisonment. Fraud can take place where a shop owner misrepresents a product to one of their customers by overstating its value or deceiving them as to its purpose. Consider a landscaping company that is contracted to build a deck, and instead of using new lumber uses old or previously used supplies in order to save money and thus defraud their client. Aside from the potential tax implications which may have taken place, the misrepresentation of value of the goods or services could constitute fraud.
The offence of possession of stolen property of value of $5,000 or less is hybrid with a Crown election. Where the offence involves “unlawfully having in his possession any property or thing or any proceeds of any property or thing knowing that all or a part of the property or thing or of the proceeds was obtained by or derived directly or indirectly from the commission in Canada of an offence punishable by indictment or an act or omission anywhere that, if it had occurred in Canada, would have constituted an offence punishable by indictment” where the value is of $5,000 or less it is an absolute jurisdiction offence under s. 553(a)(iii) and so does not have a defence election of court. It must be tried by a provincial court judge.
If you’ve been charged with shoplifting, it is in your best interest to speak to a local attorney who specializes in criminal defense as soon as possible. An experienced criminal defense attorney who knows how cases like yours are likely to be handled by the prosecutors and judges who will be involved in your case can give you practical and realistic advice about your situation and the options you have.
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