First-time Shoplifters Will Not Be Charged In Toronto

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

According to Toronto Police, the number of reported shoplifting incidents are at a five year high in Toronto.  As of October 30, 2018 there were 16,667 shoplifting incidents reported.

On November 1, 2018, Toronto Police Service launched a pilot project called “Shop Theft”, allowing first-time shoplifters to avoid prosecution in two of Toronto’s busiest police divisions.

This project allows privately employed theft prevention officers to release an accused shoplifter after the details of the incident are called in to a police division. In the normal course, the accused would be held waiting for hours for police to arrive at the store in response to the low-priority calls.

WHAT IS THE “SHOP THEFT” PROJECT?

This pilot project will run for six months in divisions 51 and 52 in Toronto, which includes the area south of Bloor Street from Spadina Avenue east to the Don River.

Alleged offenders will be released for non-violent shoplifting incidents through the project as long as they meet the following criteria:

  • They must be 18 years of age or older;
  • The items they are accused of stealing must be worth less than $1,000; and
  • They must have identification.

Paul Rinkoff, a Toronto Police staff sergeant who is in charge of running the project, explains that the investigation will proceed as usual, it will just take place over the telephone. However, a police officer will attend the premises, if requested by any party involved.

Those that are apprehended through the Shop Theft project will not be charged, however, the police reserve the right to lay a charge at a later date depending on the circumstances of the crime.

In each case of shoplifting, the theft prevention officer will be required to fill out a form which will include details about the alleged occurrence and the accused. This form will then be forwarded to Toronto Police. The accused will be read their right to counsel and advised that they are being released. They will be given a notice of apprehension, which states why they were detained and specifies that a criminal summons may be obtained at a later date by the Toronto Police Service on that charge. This summons is unrelated to any civil proceedings that the store may commence against the accused.

The Shop Theft project will be reviewed 90-days following its commencement and again at the end of six months to determine whether Toronto Police will implement this practice in all of its divisions.

Meaghan Gray, acting director of corporate communications for the Toronto Police Service, states:

What we’ve been trying to do through the modernization process is make sure that our police officers are where the public needs them the most. And maybe responding to … shoplifting calls – that can be held just as efficiently by a theft prevention officer partnered with us over the phone – allows us to reassign those officers to more pressing calls for service.

WHAT IS SHOPLIFTING?

Shoplifting is the common term used when stealing something from a store and is an offence found under section 322 of the Criminal Code. Shoplifting can be categorized in two ways depending upon the value of the items stolen: theft over $5,000 or theft under $5,000.

Section 322 of the Criminal Code reads as follows:

Every one commits theft who fraudulently and without colour of right takes, or fraudulently and without colour of right converts to his use or to the use of another person, anything, whether animate or inanimate, with intent.

The term “colour of right” refers to the person having the authority to take it. The term “converts” means to deprive someone else of their property to use for your own enjoyment.

The term “intent” in reference to shoplifting refers to the intent to take someone else’s property. The intent needs to be proven in Court beyond a reasonable doubt by the Crown prosecutor.

Shoplifting occurs when an item has been taken from a store without paying and does not occur while you are still in the store, even if the item is in your pocket.

WHAT IS THE PUNISHMENT FOR SHOPLIFTING?

Approximately 50,000 Canadians are charged with shoplifting and theft under $5,000 each year. Most shoplifters rarely attempt to steal property valued at more than $5,000. The most common items stolen include alcohol, clothing or apparel, jewelry, food, and cosmetic and beauty products.

Shoplifting is a form of theft and is therefore a serious offence, and should not be treated lightly as this offence carries with it severe penalties.

Pursuant to section 334(b) of the Criminal Code, depending on the severity of the crime, the punishment for shoplifting (theft under $5,000) is a summary offence with a maximum penalty of a fine of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 6 months. However, the Crown prosecutor may choose to proceed by way of indictment, which carries a punishment of imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

If you are convicted of the crime of theft, you may also be subject to court fines and fees, damage to your reputation and career, and restrictions on travel.

Once you have been convicted of shoplifting (unless you were a minor at the time), the charge and conviction are permanently recorded on your criminal record.  The charge, arrest, and your fingerprints are all a matter of public record even if you are not convicted of the offence.  Therefore, when travelling or on some forms for your employment you will need to answer “yes” if you are asked if you have ever been arrested or charged with a crime.

If you are facing shoplifting or theft charges, or have any questions regarding your legal rights, it is recommended that you contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer. The lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP have years of experience defending clients against theft and stolen property charges. Contact our office today online or at 905-404-1947 to speak with our knowledgeable criminal defence lawyers that specialize in defending clients who face theft charges. We offer a free initial consultation for all prospective clients.