What is break and enter?

Break and enter is one of the most common property offences in Canada. It occurs when someone enters a residence, business or other property without permission and commits or intends to commit a crime, typically theft.

The charge can be laid even if there is no forced entry, such as the case of someone entering through an open window or an unlocked door. If a person is not supposed to be there and has criminal intent, they can be found guilty, even if no theft or property damage occurs.

Section 348 of the Criminal Code of Canada offers this definition of the offence:

(1) Every one who

(a) breaks and enters a place with intent to commit an indictable offence therein,

(b) breaks and enters a place and commits an indictable offence therein, or

(c) breaks out of a place after

      (i) committing an indictable offence therein, or

      (ii) entering the place with intent to commit an indictable offence therein,

   This section of the Code also defines what is considered a “place,” stating it means:

(a) a dwelling-house;

(b) a building or structure or any part thereof, other than a dwelling-house;

(c) a railway vehicle, a vessel, an aircraft or a trailer; or

(d) a pen or an enclosure in which fur-bearing animals are kept in captivity for breeding or commercial purposes.

How common is break and enter?

According to information from Statistics Canada, 160,219 incidents of break and enters were investigated in 2019, up from 158,466 in 2015. Just under 20,000 people were charged in 2019, including 65 youths.

Of that number, 685 investigations in 2019 were for breaking and entering with the intent to steal a firearm, up from 761 in 2015. Of these charged, 140 were adults and 34 were youths.

Another 387 investigations were launched in 2019 of incidents where someone attempted a break and enter to steal a firearm from a vehicle. That number is down from 403 incidents in 2015. In 2019, 19 adults and two youths were charged.

Judicial system takes this crime seriously

When courts find someone guilty of break and enter, some judges have taken the opportunity to opine on the seriousness of the offence. Here are some examples.

In 1999, a judgment from the B.C. Court of Appeal noted: “It sometimes seems to be lost sight of that a break and enter of residential property is a very serious offence from the point of view of the victim of that offence. It can in some circumstances have a shattering effect upon people but, short of those extreme cases, it is a significant invasion of their privacy and of their sense of having a refuge that is immune from intrusion.”

A 2007 judgment from the B.C. Court of appeal reached back to English common law, noting:

In her submissions, [it was noted] that a woman’s home is her castle. This is a paraphrase from the 6th century ‘One’s home is the safest refuge to everyone,’ famously rephrased by Sir Edward Coke as "a man’s house is his castle" and then restated in Semayne’s Case (1604), [1558 -1774] All E.R. Rep. 62 (K.B.): ‘The house of everyone is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence as for his repose.’ In a crowded world the sanctuary of the home is even more important. In other words, it is a grave offence to enter another person’s home without permission, and graver to enter the home and violate the occupant. The courts must and do impose stern sanctions for such crimes.”

In 2011, a Nova Scotia provincial court judgment offered this insight into the crime:

“[Break and enter] is a serious offence involving a high degree of calculation and preparation. The court, as well, is entitled to draw the common-sense inference that residential break and enters result typically in high degrees of victim impact. Home owners have a rightful expectation that they will be safe and secure in their own homes. It is common knowledge that victims of break-and-enter crimes typically endure a profound loss of expectation of privacy, security and safety in their homes … the seriousness of the offence is extremely high.”

That sentiment was echoed in 2015 in a judgment from the B.C. Supreme Court, which stated: “The law has long recognized the sanctity of a person's home and to have that sanctity invaded constitutes a significant intrusion. The impacts are often felt not just by the homeowner, but also by other members of the community whose sense of security in their own homes is undermined.”

What sentences are given?

Section 348 of the Code distinguishes between break and enters committed in a residence versus those to other structures, specifying:

  • if the offence is committed in relation to a dwelling-house, of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life, and

  • if the offence is committed in relation to a place other than a dwelling-house, of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

In Prince Edward Island in 2020, a man was sentenced to eight months in jail and three years of probation for breaking into a woman’s home and taking a television, microwave and a pair of sneakers.

According to a media report, the Crown attorney told the court the victim wouldn’t live in the house after the break in and “struggles with hyper-vigilance in her new home; she bought a security system and the victim doesn’t feel like she will ever return to normal.”

Another P.E.I. man was sentenced to almost 200 days in jail for a string of offences that includes two break-ins, according to a news story. It states that when he pleaded guilty in provincial court, he told the judge he was “giving up crime because he can’t do the time.”

He and another man broke into an apartment building’s utility room and stole more than $1,000 worth of items, the story adds. He also broke into a separate shed and stole various tools, before riding away from the crime scene on a bicycle.

A man in Saskatchewan was given an 18-month sentence for a break and enter, according to a  report, which notes that he and a few friends put on masks then “kicked down the door of a house and entered, looking for a man who owed a debt” whom they did not know.

The man they were looking for answered the door, though he claimed to be that man’s father, the story states, adding that he told the masked men “he'd pass the message on.”

In accepting his plea of guilty to the charges of break and enter and disguise with intent, the judge noted the accused was “fortunate that nothing more happened.”

Break and enters up during the pandemic

Police in some major Canadian cities are reporting increases of break and enters during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a media report, the Ottawa Police Robbery Unit has seen a “70 per cent increase in break and enters in the past month.”

“We are reminding the community to take every step possible to protect their property,” says a police spokesperson, who urged people to be vigilant about “strangers coming into your building, locking your car, your garage and shed, and hiding your valuables.”

Another news story states that “Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver and York Region police forces are all reporting increases in business break-ins … Vancouver is reporting an increase of about 100 per cent over the last eight weeks compared to the same period last year. Close to 600 break-ins were reported.”

Police in Surrey, B.C., says it is “too soon to say whether the novel coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on the crimes being committed in the city, according to one report.

"It's too early for us to tell if any decreases or increases really are attributed to COVID-19 or if there's other factors involved," says a police spokesperson. "But we have seen some sort of shift of crime types,” adding that there has been a drop in vehicle break-ins and thefts.

Don’t face a break and enter charge alone

Depending on the circumstances, those charged with break and enter could be looking at upwards of life imprisonment upon conviction. Don’t take that chance, but instead call me for a free consultation. I have defended numerous people facing this charge, and I will work hard to win you the best results possible.

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