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Toronto Shoplifting and Theft Under $5000 Charges Lawyer

Theft Under $5000 charges in Canada

Theft under $5000 is a criminal offence under Section 334(b) of the Criminal Code that is frequently associated with retail theft and shoplifting charges. About 50,000 people are charged with theft under 5000 in Canada each year.

The types of property most frequently stolen from stores include:
  1. clothes
  2. perfumes
  3. jewelry
  4. alcohol
  5. food
Electronics are shoplifted less as these items tend to be larger and secured in ways that deter potential shoplifters. Most individuals are caught at larger department stores that invest significantly in store security.

Theft under $5000 charges
Theft Under $5000 is a relatively common criminal charge in Toronto, Canada.
Theft under $5000 charges
Theft Under $5000 is a relatively common criminal charge in Toronto, Canada.

There is no typical shoplifter profile

There is no typical profile associated with theft under offenders as they come from all ages and backgrounds. Approximately half of all people charged have no previous criminal record. These first time offenders are often well educated with families, careers, and otherwise good reputations.

Facing the prospect of a criminal record and conviction, getting caught shoplifting can be a devastating and extremely stressful experience. The potential embarrassment and stigma attached to crimes of theft is significant and can damage a person's reputation, career, and travel abilities.

Shoplifting Charges: Getting caught

In typical cases, a store security guard (often undercover/plain clothed officer) will apprehend the shoplifter immediately upon exiting the store. The person is then taken to a security room and their personal information (name, date of birth, and address) is collected. Sometimes store security will lie to the shoplifter by telling them that if they cooperate they will not call the police. They may also use threatening language or other intimidation tactics to get them to cooperate.

The store security wants the shoplifter’s name and address because this information is then forwarded to a lawyer who will write a demand or “civil recovery” letter attempting to scare the individual into paying a sum of money (often $500 - $600) to the store. Department stores often encourage their security teams to use significant pressure and coercive tactics to obtain this identity information.

The issuing of the Form 9 “Appearance Notice” document

After or during their investigation, the store security will call and report what they witnessed (either directly or via CCTV) to the police. The police then attend the store and issue a Form 9 “Appearance Notice” which provides a date and address to attend court and a date requiring the shoplifter to attend the police station for fingerprinting.

Technically, the accused is formally charged when the charges are sworn in court by the Crown Attorney. The Form 9 Appearance Notice is a document compelling the accused to attend the police station for fingerprints and the courthouse on a specific date. Failure to attend court or fingerprinting could result in further criminal charges and make winning your shoplifting case more difficult.

In addition to theft under $5000, the Toronto police frequently also charge shoplifters with possession of stolen property under Section 354 of the Criminal Code. In cases where a price tag is switched or manipulated, a charge of fraud under $5000 is typically laid. The charges that the police are accusing you of will be listed near the top of the Appearance Notice form.

In the Toronto area, your courthouse location will vary depending on where you are caught and what police department arrested you. For those charged by York Regional Police, their matter will be heard in Newmarket. Peel Police matters are heard in Brampton. For all Toronto Police arrests, they will be held at one of five Toronto Courthouses. There are significant differences among each court house in terms of how the prosecution deals with theft under charges.

Hiring a lawyer who focuses exclusively on shoplifting offences and knows the prosecutors at each courthouse is thus extremely important to the outcome of your case.

Stores tracking shopping carts to catch shoplifters

As of 2022, large retail stores such as Superstore, Costco, Home Depot and Wal-Mart are adopting new technology that detects when a shopping cart is brought past the point of purchase in the store. This means that if a customer has merchandise in their cart and passes the checkout or self-checkout area security is notified so they can stop and arrest the person. Interestingly, many of these stores have items beyond this boundary of the store for sale. This can include items in the porch/anti room area (often potato chips, pop, etc.), or the smoke/lottery shop. Sometimes items such as plants, salt, pumpkins, etc. are for sale outside the anti-room area itself (basically in the parking lot).

Many of those charged with theft under $5000 were under the impression that they would be able to pass the cash registers to obtain items listed for sale beyond them. Unfortunately, security guards at most stores are instructed to arrest those who pass the point of purchase, call the police, and have them criminally charged. The police will often state that since they cannot read the mind of the alleged shoplifter to determine whether they intended to eventually pay for the items or not that it will have to be up to the courts to decide. As such, the accused is provided with a fingerprint/mugshot date and a court date to answer to the charges.

Typical responses of those caught shoplifting

“Security hurt me or roughed me up”

A common complaint among those charged with theft under $5000 in Toronto is that the security guards used excessive force or hurt them when they were arrested. The criminal code gives specific powers of arrest and detention to agents of store owners who catch people shoplifting. While they are permitted to use physical force to detain, the amount of force used must be reasonable.

If security hurt you or used excessive force you may have grounds to sue them civilly for your pain and suffering. This being said, a civil case is entirely separate from the criminal charges. Just because the security used excessive force doesn’t mean the Crown Attorney will not proceed with the criminal charges against you.

If you were physically injured as a result of your detention, it would be advisable to seek medical treatment immediately as a future civil case would depend greatly on medical reports created at the time of the injury. Again, this is entirely separate and unrelated to the criminal charge you are facing.

“I paid for some of the items”

In approximately 50% of shoplifting cases the individual will pay for some of the items and attempt to leave the store without paying for others. Sometimes people who are charged believe they can rely on the fact that they paid for some items to show their honestly (thus indicating it was unintentional), but in reality it is normal for shoplifters to pay for some of the items and conceal others on their person or in bags without paying for them.

“I could afford the items taken therefore it is illogical that I would intentionally shoplift”

The fact that you could afford to pay for the items that were taken is generally not a complete defence. Shoplifting is committed by individuals of all backgrounds, income, and financial circumstances. It is accepted and well known that many people shoplift for the thrill of getting away with doing something wrong and not for a truly financial motive.

Pleading with store security or the police that you could afford the item is futile. Cases of individuals earning $100,000 a year or more who get caught stealing a chocolate bar are not particularly unusual.

“I can prove I purchased items from the store many times in the past”

A history of purchasing items from a store generally does not help you evade charges. In fact, it can be potentially damaging to your defence. As stated above, at least half of all shoplifters pay for some of the items they leave the store with. The fact that you frequent a store and make purchases may lead the police and the Crown Attorney to believe you target that store and shoplift from it routinely. This type of reasoning can thus quickly backfire on an accused.

Questions related to getting caught shoplifting

What happens when the shoplifter runs away from store security?

Normally store security wear plain clothes when they attempt to apprehend a shoplifter after leaving a store. This is one of the reasons that it is relatively common for the suspect to refuse to go back into the store to the security room when they are approached outside. If security chooses not to use physical force to attempt to restrain them, they will attempt to get their licence plate number. Running away on foot makes identifying the suspect more difficult.

If the licence plate number is obtained the store security will report it to the police along with the suspect’s description (gender, race, age, etc.) and vehicle description. The police will then go to the registered address of the licence plate and attempt to identify the shoplifter and issue a Form 9 Appearance Notice or a Form 10 Undertaking charging them with theft under $5,000.

In our experience, the fact that the individual refused to go back to the store with store security has not negatively impacted the outcome of their case (assuming no violence, other charges, or threats were involved). We have gotten many shoplifting charges dropped even in cases where the person refused to go with store security and drove away. It is somewhat accepted that refusing the demands of someone in plain clothes is not particularly unreasonable in a large city like Toronto.

What happens if I'm with a friend who is caught shoplifting?

If you are with a friend or a relative in a store who unbeknownst to you is shoplifting, oftentimes you will be charged too simply for being in the wrong place, with the wrong person, at the wrong time. While store security will attempt to extract statements of admission and look for evidence that both people were involved, many police will charge both persons regardless of clear evidence of knowledge.

Can you be charged with shoplifting even if you did not leave the store?

You can be charged with shoplifting in Toronto even if you haven't left the store (though such cases are rare). Most store security guards follow policies that require them to wait until the shoplifter leaves the store before they arrest them (or at least past the checkout point). The reason is that leaving the store is generally accepted to meet the “intent to deprive” of ownership requirement in the criminal code. This being said, it is possible to support a conviction even if you haven’t left the store because of the wording of Section 322 (2) of the criminal code which defines the “time a theft occurs”. It reads:
  • “A person commits theft when, with intent to steal anything, he moves it or causes it to move or to be moved, or begins to cause it to become movable.”
If you conceal an item on your person (pocket, purse, under clothes, etc.) it is possible that a court may view this as “moving” the property so as to meet the time of completion requirement specified in the Criminal Code. We have seen cases where police have charged individuals with theft under $5000 even when they are apprehended before leaving the store.

While cases of this nature are more difficult to prosecute they do happen occasionally (normally when a security guard fails to follow store policy). Just because a security guard makes a mistake by not following store policy doesn’t mean you can’t still be charged. It is the Criminal Code that defines theft under $5000, not store policy.

What are the potential punishments of theft under $5000 charges?

Those who are charged with theft under $5000, whether they are caught shoplifting, stealing from their workplace, or in another scenario, are subject to up to 2 years in prison if the Crown Attorney proceeds by indictment. If the Crown proceeds by summary conviction they face up to 6 months in jail and probation. Anyone who is sentenced to jail or probation will also receive a permanent criminal record unless they are discharged by the court. The judge can not order a discharge (absolute or conditional) if the accused is sentenced to jail (even for one day).

In addition to jail and a criminal record, those charged with theft under $5000 (receiving a fingerprint and court date) also have their fingerprints and mugshot uploaded to the RCMP CPIC database which can cause problems with Canadian immigration (IRCC) and also lifelong problems for those wanting to travel, work in, or move to the U.S. in the future.

Many charged with theft under $5000 are also professionals who are members of regulatory bodies such as physicians, teachers, lawyers, dentists, nurses, engineers, etc. Most professional governing bodies have rules relating to conduct unbecoming. Being charged with a crown elect indictable offence such as theft under $5000 will be cause for an investigation and possible sanctions from most professional societies.

Call us today for a free assessment

You don't have to jeopardize your future or waste thousands of dollars on excessive legal fees. We provide effective and affordable lawyer representation for those charged with all forms of theft and fraud related offences throughout Ontario, Canada.

Have a skilled criminal lawyer who focuses on theft and fraud related charges protect you and your future from the stigma and consequences of a criminal record.

Your case will be defended by a fully licensed Practicing Lawyer of the Law Society of Ontario. For more information about our lawyer, click here.

We provide our clients with:
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* Please note:

If you are not a paying client, we cannot answer questions and provide assistance with U.S. travel, immigration, employment background checks, and avoiding a criminal record. This includes those who have already retained other counsel and those whose cases have already been completed. We also only take calls/emails relating to Ontario, Canada area cases.

Are you a lawyer? If you are defending a theft or fraud related case and are looking for expert advice regarding possible defences, case strategies, and information release management call us at: 647-228-5969.

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