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Toronto Shoplifting and Theft Under $5000 Charges Lawyer

In criminal shoplifting cases, how much is considered to be a lot? Why does each court in the GTA treat shoplifting cases so differently?

Factors such as the total dollar value of what was taken, the number of items taken, the number of individual stores stolen from, and previous thefts from the same store are always aggravating factors in shoplifting cases. Each Crown Attorney's office/courthouse in the GTA assesses these (along with other) case factors differently because they operate under different societal/political pressures and with varying levels of resources.

The total dollar value, number of individual items taken, number of stores (victims) involved, and store security saying you have done it in their store before in the past, are some of many case factors that will always cause the Crown to consider the case to be more aggravating. This means the Crown Attorney will be more likely to seek a harsh sentence in your case (criminal record, probation, jail, etc.).

What dollar amount is safe to take?

There is no amount that is safe to take because the dollar value of the theft is only one of 15+ potentially aggravating factors. Furthermore, each Crown courthouse office and individual Crown Attorney assess shoplifting/theft under $5000 cases differently. Even very low dollar value cases can be considered extremely aggravating and prosecuted heavily (criminal record, jail, etc.) in certain circumstances, however this article is only about case factors relating to quantity/amounts.

The total dollar value of the items: what is considered to be high for a shoplifting case in Toronto?

There is no set dollar amount as to what is high and what is not high. Each individual Crown Attorney has their own view on what is considered a lot. In servicing all GTA courthouses, it is obvious that certain Crown Attorney's offices are also more generally prone to classify a case as high value than others. Anything over $500 is definitely considered to be a lot. This being said, there are some Crowns who consider $200 a lot. At some courthouses a lawyer who plays his cards right may be able to get cases over $1000 dropped, whereas at others it may not be possible.

Certain Crown Attorney's offices are more used to high dollar value cases than others. This is because certain stores in the GTA both sell higher value goods and simultaneously allocate significant resources to catching and charging shoplifters.

Here are some stores that regularly charge people with aggravated high value shoplifting:
  • Yorkdale mall: The Bay
  • Yorkdale mall: Holt Renfrew
  • Fairview mall: The Bay
  • Square One: Simons
  • Eaton Center: The Bay
  • Eaton Center: Saks First Avenue
  • Eaton Center, Yorkdale, Sherway Gardens: Nordstrom
  • Burlington Outlet: The Bay
  • Yonge/Bloor: The Bay
  • Hillcrest Mall: The Bay
  • Eaton Center: Sephora
  • College Park: Winners
  • Vaughan Mills: Winners
  • Yonge/Eglinton: Winners
  • 30 Kingston Road, Ajax: Real Canadian Superstore
  • 101 Edgeley Blvd, Vaughan: Wal-Mart Vaughan Supercentre
Each of these stores report theft to different police forces/departments who operate out of different jurisdictions and courthouses. For instance, Saks Fifth Avenue, which sells relatively expensive items compared to most stores, is now currently sending a lot of high value cases to Old City Hall. The Crown Attorney's office there, which is not used to so many high value cases, is currently trying to crack down on these crimes. Some other courthouses are more used to high value cases.

How does the number of individual items stolen and number of stores involved impact how seriously the Crown will prosecute the case?

Apart from the obvious above noted differences from courthouse to courthouse, some Crown Attorneys are trained to view a high number of items as a “spree”. For instance, someone may walk out of a loblaws store with a shopping cart full of items. Perhaps the total value is $100, but there are 20 items. Many Crowns see this as a spree in that the person is not just trying to get away with taking one or two items but a whole bunch of different things. It is seen as more calculated, intentional and opportunistic as opposed to a one time stupid mistake.

If it is a lot of the same item or items that do not seem connected to the background of the shoplifter, they may accuse you of trying to sell/traffic them (perhaps on Kijiji or Craigslist) or otherwise pawn them off for profit. Shoplifting for personal use is not as bad as doing it for sale or as part of a strategy to enrich yourself. If you are a guy, and are stealing women’s purses this may raise the suggestion that there is more to your intentions than to get something to use for free. Perhaps it was a gift, but this is aggravating nonetheless and depending on the value may create substantial difficulties for your lawyer to beat the charges.

As the Toronto area is filled with immigrants and temporary visitors (tourists), sometimes items are stolen with the intention to be sent or brought back to their home country. This is considered an extremely offensive, aggravating factor by many Crown Attorney's offices in the GTA area.

The number of different stores that were shoplifted from, or allegations of prior "uncaught" incidents in the same store is also aggravating

If the shoplifter is alleged to have stolen from more than one store, or the same store many times in the past, this is considered highly aggravating. The more stores/times, the less it appears an impulsive mistake, and the more it seems calculated and premeditated. Certain malls in the GTA (Eaton Center, Yorkdale, Vaughan Mills, Fairview, STC, Square One) have a limited number of stores with the ability to catch and arrest people (The Bay, Winners, Old Navy, Shoppers Drug Mart, Wal-Mart, Sephora, H & M, etc). Sometimes when one of the high security stores catches a shoplifter, they find unpaid merchandise from other (more vulnerable) stores in the mall on the accused. Other times, the accused is caught with unpaid merchandise in their vehicle.

The store may not have been able to make the arrest in previous incidents

Many times the accused has been on the store security watch list for some time, though they were unable to arrest him/her previously. The reasons for not arresting them before often include issues regarding evidence gathering. It can sometimes be hard to move the CCTV camera to follow/zoom in on the accused and specifically record their actions if they are not prepared for and already anticipating the person to steal beforehand. Similarly, an undercover eye witness on the floor may need the preparation of knowing the person in advance to properly establish continuity. Some employees are also not authorized by their employers to make the arrest and thus it is postponed for the security team to investigate and make the arrest.

It should be noted that some of the larger stores seem to share intelligence on people they believe are targeting them (Winners, The Bay, etc.), so the tip may come from another store that has been watching and sometimes following the suspect to other stores.

Once the evidence is collected it is reported to the police

The security then reports their evidence, such as eye witness statements, CCTV footage, transaction records, etc. to the police. The police will then create a synopsis for the Crown detailing what happened including the number of stores involved and/or previous incidents in the past. Sometimes the charges are laid while the investigation into the past incidents is still ongoing. The police may choose to charge the accused with a single count (ie. theft under $5000) or they may include multiple counts (theft under $5000 x 2, 3, 4, etc.). A 'possession of property obtained by crime' charge may also be included. Even if it is only one charge/count, it is primarily the facts in the police synopsis detailing everything that is alleged to have happened that determines the Crown's assessment of the case.

Some jurisdictions seem more prone to adding additional charges than others. For example, virtually all shoplifters charged by York Regional Police will be charged with both theft under and possession of property obtained by crime. This doesn't happen nearly as often in other jurisdictions.

While the Crown will assess the case based on the alleged facts and not so much the number of individual charges laid, having more than one charge/count can impact how US Customs may evaluate your ability to travel to the US, as their immigration/inadmissibility laws differentiate between someone with just one charge and those with multiple charges.

Why is there such a variation among courthouses/Crown Attorneys in how shoplifting cases are prosecuted?

Canadians often think “this is Canada”, in the sense that it is all the same. It is not. Just like in the US, Canada is a federation with different powers across each province, municipal government, etc. There are local districts and jurisdictions that function quite independently and under different political atmospheres and pressures. While every province still operates under the same Criminal Code (unlike in the US where each state has its own criminal code), the Ministry of the Attorney General leaves quite a bit of discretion to each individual Crown Attorney's office in their jurisdiction and for this reason they operate quite independently and differently.

Each courthouse in Ontario has an individual Crown Attorney in charge of the office, different levels of resources available, different political climates, different levels of crime, etc. They are affiliated with different police forces, each of which operates differently (Toronto, Halton, Peel, York, OPP, Durham).

To see an example of this, go to the Durham Region courthouse at 150 Bond Street E, Oshawa and then go to the courthouse at 1911 Eglinton Ave E, Scarborough, or 1000 Finch Ave W, North York. In Durham, you have a $70+ million dollar courthouse servicing only a fraction of the cases as either of these other two courts that operate out of strip malls. Juxtaposing all the fancy empty courtrooms in Durham (go upstairs) with the lack of resources in the Toronto courts is somewhat sad and a window into how foolishly government money is often allotted. It also exemplifies how starkly different the court experience is across the GTA for those who are accused.

At some courts a shoplifting case, if handled correctly, can be dropped on the first day, while at others it can take months if it can be dropped at all. There is no uniform way in which these cases are handled. Please see our FAQ for the courthouses we service regularly.

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