Property Offences

Understanding the Differences Between Theft, Robbery & Burglary

Written on behalf of Barrison Law
A person's gloved hands prying open a door with a crowbar, representing theft, burglary, break-and-enter, and robbery in Ontario

In a criminal law context, terminology matters. The words used to describe various criminal activities hold distinct legal significance, which is why it is crucial for individuals to understand the differences between each term. In Canada, theft, burglary, and robbery are three terms often heard in discussions of criminal charges relating to property offences. However, despite these terms being used interchangeably, each term refers to a distinct criminal charge with its own legal test and consequences.

This blog post explores the nuances of theft, burglary, and robbery charges, shedding light on what sets them apart, the potential penalties associated with each, and what to do if you face one of these charges.

Property Offences in Ontario

Property offences can have severe repercussions for those convicted. Canada’s legal system takes these offences seriously, as they can have significant consequences for individuals, businesses, and communities alike.

Each offence is defined by specific elements and carries its own legal consequences, which, in many cases, include a mandatory penalty. For instance, theft involves the unlawful taking of someone else’s property with the intent to permanently deprive them of it, while break and enter can be considered a more serious offence and may carry a more serious consequence. Understanding the nuances of these offences and their potential penalties is crucial for anyone navigating the legal landscape in Ontario, but it can be challenging. For these reasons, it is essential for individuals facing related criminal charges to work with an experienced criminal defence lawyer who can help you understand your charges and your options.

What Is Theft?

Theft is defined under section 322(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada (the “Criminal Code”) as an offence where a person uses or takes something that does not belong to them without the owner’s permission, with the intention to temporarily or absolutely deprive the owner of it.

To successfully convict someone of theft, the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the property was taken or stolen without the owner’s permission and the lawful authority to do so. The stolen property in question does not need to be a physical object, although the stolen goods must be tangible. The Crown must demonstrate that the property was taken or stolen without permission or the lawful authority to do so. An accused charged with theft may have an explanation or defence available to them in certain circumstances.

Theft Over $5000 and Theft Under $5000

Section 334 of the Criminal Code separates theft into two charges: theft over $5000 and theft under $5000. The difference between these two charges is the value of the stolen property and the potential punishment if an accused is convicted of the offence.

Theft Over $5000

When the value of the stolen property exceeds $5000, the charge is considered to be an indictable offence carrying a possible maximum sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment.

Theft Under $5000

Theft under $5000 is one of the most prevalent property offences in Canada. Convictions for theft under $5000 can result in fines, probation, or even imprisonment for a maximum term of two years. This is considered a hybrid offence, meaning the Crown may choose whether to proceed summarily or on indictment, which can impact the potential penalties if the accused is convicted.

What Is Robbery?

Robbery is a serious and violent offence under section 343 of the Criminal Code and involves the use or threat of violence or intimidation during the commission of a theft. In other words, a theft or attempted theft involving an assault may be considered a robbery.

The severity of a robbery charge and an accompanying sentence may be impacted by various factors, such as the accused’s prior criminal record, the use of weapons, the degree and extent of violence used, and any resulting injuries to the complainant. For a crime to be considered a robbery, the complainant must be present during the commission of the offence.

In many cases, the Crown will seek to have an individual held in custody without bail while they await trial for robbery charges. Offenders who have been convicted of a robbery involving an actual or imitation firearm can face a mandatory jail sentence of at least five years for a first offence. For repeat offences, more severe consequences may be imposed up to a maximum of life imprisonment.

What Is Burglary or a Break and Enter Offence?

Burglary in Canada is called “break and enter” and is a distinct property offence defined under section 348 of the Criminal Code. A person may face a break and enter charge when they unlawfully enter a place, such as a residence or business, intending to commit an indictable offence (such as theft, assault, or mischief). Further, a person may face a burglary charge whether the complainant was present at the time of the offence.

Break and enter charges can be complex, as they hinge on proving both unlawful entry and criminal intent. If a person is charged with break and enter, they may also be charged with other offences, such as theft or possession of stolen property. However, a break and enter charge can still be laid against an individual even if theft has not occurred. Penalties for break and enter convictions can vary based on the specific circumstances. For example, a burglary committed in a dwelling is an indictable offence carrying a maximum life imprisonment sentence, while a burglary in a non-dwelling can result in up to 10 years imprisonment.

The Criminal Defence Lawyers at Barrison Law Defend Against Property Charges in Oshawa, Durham & the GTA

If you have been charged with a property offence, you may face serious consequences, including life imprisonment. Being convicted of a break and enter, theft, or robbery can substantially affect all areas of your life. Therefore, your next steps are critical.

At Barrison Law, our experienced criminal defence lawyers will provide you with an assessment of your circumstances, explain your options, and develop a strategic defence to help you achieve the best possible outcome. Contact us online or call us at 905-404-1947 to learn how we can help you.