What is robbery?
There are two basic elements of robbery: the theft or extortion of property that is not yours and the use of a weapon or an implied threat of violence. The justice system treats this crime seriously. It was once even punishable by death, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. Life imprisonment is the current maximum penalty if a firearm is used in the crime.
According to Statista, there were 23,296 robberies in 2019 in Canada. That’s up from 2014 when 20,932 were reported, the lowest total in the past 20 years.
How is it legally defined?
Section 343 of the Criminal Code offers this definition of what constitutes a robbery:
Every one commits robbery who:
(a) steals, and for the purpose of extorting whatever is stolen or to prevent or overcome resistance to the stealing, uses violence or threats of violence to a person or property;
(b) steals from any person and, at the time he steals or immediately before or immediately thereafter, wounds, beats, strikes or uses any personal violence to that person;
(c) assaults any person with intent to steal from him; or
(d) steals from any person while armed with an offensive weapon or imitation thereof.
What is a threat of violence?
Determining what constitutes a threat of violence depends on the circumstances and facts of each case. The court considers what words and gestures were used by the accused. A threat of violence can include any action taken that would lead the victim to reasonably believe that physical injury could be imminent. For example, raising a fist or verbally threatening to hurt someone will be considered a threat of violence.
A 2013 case heard by Manitoba’s Court of Appeal illustrates how an implied threat of violence can lead to a robbery conviction. According to the judgment: “The accused entered a drug store on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg with his face concealed by a hoodie. His hands were in his pockets. He told the cashier, “Give me the money … [i]t’s a robbery … I have a gun,” or similar words … a clerk on duty testified that she was ‘real scared’ during the encounter, and the clerk who assisted stated that she was in shock. The entire incident took 39 seconds.”
The judgment offers more comments about the threat of violence.
“The view that threats of bodily harm are essentially acts of violence is likely based on the fact that threatening to cause bodily harm can often perform the same function as actually causing it, in that both can instill the level of fear in the victim that is needed to achieve the offender’s goal,” court documents read. “In this sense, it can be said that irrespective of whether an offender threatens to cause bodily harm or actually causes bodily harm, in both cases he or she is “wielding violence” to satisfy his or her object(s) … robbery, by its very definition, includes at least a threat of violence. If not, it is simply theft.”
Who is committing the crime?
A Correctional Service Canada study, A Profile of Robbery Offenders in Canada, starts off by noting “robbery (also commonly referred to as a stick-up, hold-up, mugging, or purse snatching) is almost exclusively an offence of the young male.”
Only five per cent are female, it states, and two-thirds are younger than 25, with “virtually no one is older than 50. Approximately, 16% of those accused of robbery are young offenders.”
The study says that while robberies account for only about 10 per cent of all violent crimes, “it is among the crimes most feared by Canadians because of its potential physical harm to victims. Robbery involves a high probability of physical harm from a stranger, and it can happen to anyone, almost anywhere, at any time.”
Robbery offenders are also more likely to use weapons than other offenders, it states, with one-quarter involving the use of a firearm, another one-quarter the use of offensive weapons such as clubs or knives, and about one-half involving the use or threat of physical force.
“More important, however, one-quarter of robbery victims received at least a minor physical injury, with 4% requiring medical attention at the scene or transportation to a medical facility,” the study states.
“Further evidence of the seriousness of robbery is that more than 80% of those convicted or robbery in Canada are sentenced to incarceration, while just 23% of all offenders convicted in provincial courts are sent to prison. Further, between 1986 and 1991, 20% of admissions to federal custody (persons serving sentences of two years or longer) were for robbery offences. Finally, a December 31, 1994 snapshot of the federal offender population identified almost one-third as robbery offenders.”
Four types of offenders
A Correctional Service Canada study states that a University of Montreal task force on armed robbery divides offenders into four groups.
The chronic armed robber: The average age of the offenders at first offence is 12, with the duration of their robbery career averaging seven to eight years when they commit 20 to 25 armed robberies along with other offences (burglary, drugs and auto theft). “These offenders generally earn from $500 to $5,000 per robbery and the money is spent on drugs and alcohol, going to clubs, taking trips or buying automobiles,” the task force found.
The professional armed robber: The average age of these offenders at first offence is 13, with the duration of their armed robbery career averaging 11 to 12 years when they commit 20 to 50 armed robberies and other offences (burglary, drugs, auto theft and safe-cracking). “While professional armed robbers tend to be well-armed (sometimes with automatic weapons), they fire their weapons less often than chronic armed robbers (one out of ten robberies) and sometimes take hostages. These offenders generally earn from $500 to $1,000 per robbery (with a few very lucrative heists), and the money is spent on debts, daily expenses, automobiles, furniture and bank deposits,” the task force found.
The intensive armed robber: The average age of these offenders at first offence is 18, with their robbery careers lasting for only a few weeks or months when they commit five to 10 armed robberies and few other offenses. “Intensive armed robbers sometimes carry firearms (which are always loaded) and rarely use them. These armed robbers earn from $150 to $1,400 per robbery and spend the money on daily expenses and going to clubs,” the task force found.
The occasional armed robber: The average age of these offenders at first offence is 13, with their armed robbery careers lasting up to two years when they commit from one to six armed robberies and many other offenses (burglary, fraud, drugs, or auto theft.) “[They] generally prepare poorly for their armed robberies and are often not disguised and insufficiently armed. These armed robbers earn from $100 to $1,000 per robbery and the money is spent on clubs, drugs and trips,” the task force found.
What is the impact of being robbed?
Even if no one is physically injured during a robbery, the criminal act can have a lasting impact on victims. A 2008 Ontario Court of Justice decision describes how a bank robbery affected two female tellers, though no weapons were involved.
“While I work, I am constantly looking outside to see if there are potential robbers about to attempt to come in,” one woman wrote in her victim impact statement.
“I find myself being biased against some people and stereotyping now, when I have never been a person to do such a thing, I am nervous serving customers and have bad nightmares about bank robberies. I feel some anxiety at times about the situation. It has me wondering what else could have happened and so on.”
Her shaken trust in humanity was echoed by the second teller.
“Since the robbery, I have been uncomfortable at work and much more anxious that I was before … it ruined my sense of security and has made me very untrusting of everyday situations like customer interaction/public situation … my sense of security in my workplace was violated and I will never truly be comfortable at work or feel trust towards customers again. I’m very suspicious of regular requests by people at work for fear it will result in a robbery again because the accused masked his true intentions.”
In sentencing, the judge stated that “psychological harm can be long lasting and profoundly affect people’s lives and it should not take a back seat to physical harm. That kind of loss of personal confidence in security over a prolonged period does constitute serious bodily harm.”
Don’t face a robbery charge alone
If you have been charged with robbery, dealing with the police and the criminal justice system requires a skilled and experienced legal advocate. I have helped numerous clients accused of this crime in obtaining the best result possible in their circumstances. If the police have called you for an interview or for questioning, don’t give a statement. First, call me for a free consultation.