What is theft?

Theft involves taking something that is not yours without permission, whether it be a candy bar or a luxury automobile. It also occurs when someone lends you an item and you refuse to give it back, as you are then denying them the enjoyment they derive from it.

Another example of theft would be if you were to go to a bar and at the end of the evening you take what you think is your coat and leave. But when you get home, you see your jacket is still in the closet and that you have mistakenly taken someone else’s coat. If you don’t return it to the bar and give the owner a chance to reclaim it, you have committed theft. Intent (mens rea) is a required component of the crime, and it is up to the court to decide whether the person intended to commit theft if the case goes to trial.

Section 322 of the Criminal Code states that it is illegal to “fraudulently and without colour of right” (the honest belief that an act is justified) take someone’s property. The charge also encompasses the act of converting something that belongs to someone else into something that benefits you.

What is theft under $5,000?

In Canada, thefts are split into two categories based on the value of what was stolen. Theft under $5,000 can include shoplifting, stealing from employers and not paying for your purchase at a gas station. During the lockdown brought on by COVID-19, there has been an increase of people stealing parcels from doorsteps, a crime that could fall under this category.

The maximum penalty for the charge of theft under $5,000 is two years less a day in jail if the charge is treated as an indictable offence, with less-severe penalties given if the charge is treated as a summary conviction.

If you are convicted of theft even as a summary offence, that conviction will appear on your criminal record, hurting your chances for employment and limiting your ability to leave the country. If it is your first offence, your lawyer may be able to convince a judge to give you an absolute or conditional discharge in exchange for completing a restorative justice program such as community service. If you complete the conditions set out by the court, your criminal record will be erased.

What is theft over $5,000?

Theft over $5,000 is a serious offence in Canada and can involve stolen goods or embezzlement. It is usually treated as an indictable offence, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, with lesser penalties given if the charge is treated as a summary conviction.

Stolen items worth more than $5,000 vary widely. A news report states that three Ontario men are facing this charge after $40,000 of copper wire was recovered. In Alberta, two men were charged with theft over $5,000 after nearly $1 million in stolen property was recovered by police, including 13 holiday travel trailers, according to a news report. It explains that the vehicle identification numbers on the trailers were changed before they were resold.

Will the charge be dropped if I give the stolen item back?

Once police charge you with theft the only person who can withdraw that charge is the Crown attorney. Returning the item or paying for its monetary value will not result in the automatic dropping of the charges. However, such an action will be considered a mitigating factor by the court when it comes to sentencing, perhaps leading to a conditional or absolute discharge, especially with a first offence.

What if I stole someone’s car?

Section 333.1 (1) of the Criminal Code specifically deals with auto theft. Unlike other forms of theft, the value of the item stolen, in this case a vehicle, does not determine the penalty. If the charge is treated as an indictable offence, the Code states the maximum penalty is 10 years in prison. If the charge is prosecuted as a summary conviction, the maximum penalty is two years less a day in jail.

What is identity theft?

If you obtain or possess someone’s identity information with the intention of using that to commit theft or fraud, you could be charged with identity theft under s. 402.2 (1) of the Criminal Code. A subsection of that charge makes it an offence for you to sell or offer someone else’s identity information knowing that it may be used for an indictable offence. You can also be charged if you are reckless about knowing how the identity information is to be used.

Common examples of the misuse of identity information would be to create documents such as fraudulent passports, certificates of citizenship, credit cards or any other forged documents. Identity information can include a fingerprint, voice print, DNA profile, digital signature, credit card number, health insurance number or a driver’s licence.

Those found guilty of identity theft face up to five years in prison.

Theft conviction leads to ban on visiting nine businesses

An Ontario man convicted of multiple acts of shoplifting received a two-year probation during which he is banned from entering nine businesses in one community including an LCBO, Canada Post office, Tim Hortons and Giant Tiger, according to a news report, It adds that the man pleaded guilty to seven counts of theft under $5,000, as well as to threatening death or bodily harm after he was caught taking items from one store.

Western drought leads to the theft of hay

Someone stole $10,000 in hay bales from a provincial park in Alberta, a news report, as farmers struggle to feed their livestock in the face of a crippling drought. The story notes that a field of hay within the provincial park had been illegally harvested with large bales of hay left on the ground. The park had intended to donate them to the Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the story adds, but about 70 bales were removed from the park by someone using a machine capable of picking up the large bales and a flatbed semi-trailer to take them away.

“I think people are just getting a bit desperate and trying whatever they can to get supplies,” said a spokesman for SPCA, according to the report.

‘Recklessness’ defence rejected in theft

The lawyer for a former director of a daycare centre in Prince Edward Island who stole thousands of dollars told the court that her “theft almost does not constitute criminality. It's more like recklessness”, according to a news report. The story states the woman failed to deposit cash payments from parents into the centre's bank account, totalling $16,305.75.
In a letter to the court, the married mother of five children noted, “I had no desire to steal, I was just trying to exit from a situation that was stressful to me," the report states. Noting that the woman has paid the money back by remortgaging her house, her lawyer asked for a conditional discharge, noting the accused lacked the proper monetary skills to handle the centre's finances, the story states.

The Crown attorney countered that “breach of trust is still very prevalent here on Prince Edward Island" and that her crime “calls for a custodial sentence,” according to the report. The judge agreed, giving the woman a three-month jail sentence followed by two years of probation.

Cheerleading coach guilty of theft

A 26-year-old Manitoba cheerleading coach who bilked two small non-profit organizations out of thousands of dollars was sentenced to nine months behind bars for theft, a news report states.

During a 17-month period, she wrote cheques to herself from the charities she was managing, with the judge in the case noting she made "185 choices to be dishonest,” according to the story. It adds that her lawyer asked that she be allowed to serve her sentence at home, noting the woman turned herself in when the police investigation began.

The judge instead opted for a nine-month jail sentence, noting “what a sentence of incarceration will promote is a sense of gravity of the thefts … as well as a statement of the serious harm done to the victims and, as a foreseeable result, to the community at large," the report states.

When she is released, the judge said the woman must write letters to the victimized organizations "expressing any thoughts" she has after serving her time and must also repay the stolen money, the story adds.

Why you need me on your side

The penalty for theft can range from a fine to prison time, depending on what was stolen and  other factors. If you have been charged with theft, book a free consultation with me to discuss your case. After hearing your side and looking at the evidence, I will be able to suggest strategies that could beat the charge or to at least minimize the penalty. All discussions can be in French or English, and you will deal only with me as the case proceeds.

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