Shoplifting is theft. It means to steal something from a store. Theft is a criminal offence under the Canadian Criminal Code.
To be found guilty of theft or shoplifting, the Crown prosecutor must prove that you intended to steal the item. For example, if you are charged with shoplifting a book, the Crown prosecutor must prove that you intended to leave without paying for the book. If you honestly forgot to pay for the book, or if you honestly forgot you were carrying the book, and the judge believes you, you cannot be found guilty of the offence.
If a store employee has a good reason to believe that you are shoplifting, the store security can hold you in their custody. They cannot hold you for a long period of time and they must call the police right away. Although you do not have to answer any questions asked by store security or the police, you should avoid becoming hostile and you should identify yourself.
You can be charged with theft over $5000 or theft under $5000, depending on the value of the item allegedly stolen. Theft under $5000 is a hybrid offence, which means that the Crown prosecutor can choose to treat the offence as a less serious summary conviction offence, or a more serious indictable offence. If it is your first offence, the Crown prosecutor will probably choose the less serious summary conviction procedure, which carries a maximum penalty of a $2000 fine and/or six months in prison. Generally, however, the penalty for first time offenders is a small fine and probation, or an absolute or conditional discharge. In some areas, the crown can offer you the alternative of doing community service work and will withdraw the charge if it is a very minor one. If the Crown prosecutor chooses to treat the offence as a serious indictable offence, your sentence could be much more severe.
Theft over $5000 is a serious indictable offence, and carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison. If you have been charged with theft, you should consult a lawyer.
Walter Drescher is a partner of the law firm of Cobb & Jones. If you have any questions, send them to the Simcoe Reformer, or consult a lawyer of your choice.