What is possession of stolen property?
Everyone knows it is a crime to steal property from another person but they may not realize it is also illegal to possess items that you know, or should have known, were obtained through illegal activity.
For example, if you stole a television from a warehouse and kept it in your home, you could be charged with both theft and possession of stolen goods. However, if your friend did the thieving then gave you a brand new TV without any real explanation of how he came about to own it, you could face the charge of being in possession of property obtained by crime.
Keep in mind that criminal law in Canada is based around the Latin phrase: “Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea,” which translates to “an act does not make a person guilty unless the mind is also guilty.” This means that a crime consists of two elements: the commission of a guilty act, known as actus reus, and the presence of a guilty mind, known as mens rea.
If someone offers items for a price that is well below the market value and does not have any sales receipt, you are being willfully blind to accept them.
What the Criminal Code says
Section 354 (1) of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to be in possession of property obtained by crime. For example, if a person in a parking lot is selling unopened electronics from the back of his van, there is a good chance they were stolen from somewhere and you could be charged if you agree to purchase from him.
However, if you buy a television, from a legitimate store that sells used items, you cannot be charged with possessing stolen property, even if later is shown to be stolen.
Two related charges
Two closely related crimes are also found in the Code. Section 355.2 makes it illegal to traffic in property obtained by crime. If you attempt to resell anything obtained through a criminal action you could face this charge. Section 355.4 makes it a crime to possess anything obtained through crime for the purpose of trafficking.
What is needed to convict
The Crown prosecutor must show that you were in possession of the stolen property and that you knew – or ought to have known – that it was obtained through crime. Be aware that under Canadian law, “possession” means that you had some level of control and knowledge about an item, even if it is in a different location.
Possession of property obtained by crime is a hybrid offence, meaning that the Crown prosecutor can prosecute it as either an indictable offence or by summary conviction. Those found guilty of an indictable offence will face penalties that are more severe than if those being sentenced for a summary conviction.
Penalties for possession of property obtained by crime
If you are found guilty of possessing stolen property that is worth more than $5,000 and the Crown is treating the charge as an indictable offence, you face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, with lesser penalties given if it is treated as a summary conviction. If you are found guilty of possessing less than $5,000 of stolen material worth, the maximum penalty for an indictable offence is two years less a day in jail, with less harsh penalties given if the charge is treated as a summary conviction.
The charge of trafficking more than $5,000 in stolen items is always treated as an indictable offence with a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. If you are instead charged with trafficking less than $5,000 of items, there is a five-year maximum prison sentence if the Crown prosecutes it as an indictable, with less severe penalties if the charge is treated as a summary conviction.
Thefts lead to possession of stolen property charges
Two Regina residents were charged with possession of stolen property for the purpose of trafficking after police searched their home, according to a news report. It states that a man and a woman stole property from a local hardware store then brought it to a residence, where it was then posted online for sale 30 minutes later.
The report notes that the stolen material was recovered in the home “as well as a number of other items of brand new property, with both suspects charged with trafficking in property obtained by crime over $5,000.
Theft ring stretched across the country
More than a dozen people have been charged in connection with what police are calling “an organized crime group” that is suspected to have trafficked stolen items across Canada, according to a news report.
It states that police believe the suspects had been committing thefts across Canada – including in British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland – and then shipping the items to Markham, Ont.
“The suspects were monitored and observed … loading stolen merchandise, including perfume and cosmetics, into shipping boxes,” the story states, adding that more than $250,000 in stolen property was recovered along with $67,000 in cash.
Thirteen Ontario residents were charged with participation in a criminal organization, trafficking in property obtained by crime over $5,000 and possession of property obtained by crime over $5,000, the story adds.
Criminal possession of The Great’s One’s memorabilia
Hockey sticks, jerseys, gloves, hockey pants and a Player-of-the-Year award given to Wayne Gretzky were all recovered after a theft from his father’s home in Brantford, Ont. According to a news report, the items were stolen and then resold to collectors across Canada. Municipal, provincial and federal police services worked together to identify the homes where the stolen property was located, the story states with search warrants executed at five homes in Alberta and Ontario.
More than $500,000 in Gretzky memorabilia was successfully recovered, the report notes, adding that an Oakville, Ont., man was charged with theft over $5,000 and possession of stolen property over $5,000.
Unusual items can be stolen and trafficked
The crime of possessing and trafficking of stolen goods goes well beyond the usual items such as autos and electronics, as these news reports show. In Bracebridge, Ont., police charged two men with possession of property obtained by crime over $5,000 after complaints that the pair were trying to sell generators from their car, according to a news report.
In York Region, police recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stolen chocolate, nuts, and two trucks, before charging three men with a variety of theft and possession of stolen good charges.
According to a news report, investigators located a stolen tractor trailer that contained 55 skids of chocolate – worth $360,000 – in Toronto then a second stolen trailer was located in Vaughan, Ont., that was loaded with 22 skids of pecans worth $270,000.
Along with the theft and possession of stolen goods charges, the three men were also charged with possession of heroin and crystal methamphetamine for the purpose of trafficking.
Police monitor the web to track down stolen items
According to a news report, the Calgary Police Service was the first in Canada to set up an online stolen property team to track down stolen items being resold online.
The story states that officers monitor buy-and-sell websites such as Kijiji, looking for items that have been reported as stolen by residents. In the first 16 months of operation, officers recovered at least $750,000 worth of stolen property from approximately 400 people.
“In the past, oftentimes stolen property was being sold between networks, whether it was drugs, friends or to pawn shops and that was relatively easy to control,” an officer is quoted as saying. “Once it moved online, we saw a need to develop a covert capacity to … lower the increase (in) property crimes in the city.”
The story adds that he does not recommend that members of the public try to confront those selling their stolen items online, as in “almost half of the cases … they are armed.”
The officer says that offenders are usually drug users desperate for cash or those who are unemployed.
When looking to purchase an item online, the officer says it’s important to watch for red flags such as items being priced extremely low compared to its regular market value or a very poor item description.
“The person who has stolen the item doesn’t really know what they are selling,” he says.
Why you need my help
If you have been charged with possession of items obtained through crime, the interactions you have with police and the criminal justice system require a skilled and experienced legal advocate. I have helped numerous clients avoid jail time stemming from this and related charges. If the police have called you for an interview or questioning, don’t give a statement. First, call me for a free consultation.