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Toronto Criminal Lawyer Mark Zinck

Defence of Shoplifting (Theft Under $5000) Charges in Toronto


Shoplifting, or theft under $5,000, is a common minor criminal offense that is committed by Canadians of all ages and backgrounds for different reasons. While some shoplift for financial purposes, others are motivated more so by the thrill of the experience itself. If you've been charged with shoplifting in Toronto, hiring a criminal defence lawyer who deals with shoplifting cases is the best way to have the matter resolved in a way that won't impact your future.

Getting Caught Shoplifting

Shoplifters are typically caught by private investigators or other shoppers who notice them placing items in their clothes, bags, or on their person and report it to security guards.

Security then detains the suspect and calls the police. Under the criminal code, security guards and store owners and agents have the right to use reasonable force to detain or hold a suspected shoplifter while the police are called to the scene.

Running away after shoplifting

Unless under the arrest of a peace officer, or physically legally detained by the store's owners or agents, there is no legal requirement for a shoplifter to remain at the scene of the crime.

For example, perhaps a shoplifter exits a retail store and is yelled to by security to "stop". There is nothing legally requiring the shoplifter to stop because the security guard instructed them to do so.

Shoplifting by Accident

Accidents happen. It is natural to place things in ones pockets. Sometimes people place items in their pockets while shopping without thinking about it, or intending to use their pockets to carry the item to the register. Shoplifting can thus sometimes happen accidentally.

If you are charged with shoplifting, and believe it was the result of an accident on your part, you always have the option of pleading not guilty and attempting to convince the judge that your actions were unintentional. You may face an uphill battle however as many accused would provide the court with this same reason (whether it was true or not).

Another difficulty you may face is that shoplifting is viewed as an offense that is commonly committed even by those who have the financial means to pay. Media reports have portrayed shoplifters as thrill seekers who do not fit the typical profile of a criminal. For this reason, your personal circumstances and background may not be overly beneficial in helping persuade the court it was an accident.

Diversion Program to Avoid a Criminal Conviction

Given that shoplifting is sometimes considered a minor crime by the Crown and many people who do it have no prior criminal record, it may be possible to avoid prosecution by agreeing to enter into a diversion program.

This means the charges are "diverted" away from the criminal justice system and dealt with alternatively. Whether diversion is an option or not is at the discretion of the prosecution. If you have a prior criminal record, or violence or other aggravating factors are involved in the offense, it is unlikely the Crown will agree to diversion.

Mark Zinck routinely persuades crown attorneys to drop shoplifting charges and agree to diversion programs. For more information, see our specific website on getting shoplifting charges dropped.

Diversion requires admitting responsibility

One requirement of diversion is that you admit responsibility for the offence. You will also have to be prepared to follow the requirements/conditions set forth by the diversion officer. The requirements could include attending classes, making a donation, and community service. This process allows you to avoid a formal criminal conviction record, but participating in diversion means admitting responsibility in writing for theft, which potentially can show up on background checks and cause problems with employment, travel, and immigration.

For more detailed information on potential problems associated with diversion, and how hiring a lawyer can help you avoid these issues, please see: http://www.torontoshopliftinglawyer.ca/diversion.htm

Department store shoplifting fines

Sometimes stores, typically large department stores, will send a demand letter or other documentation to the shoplifter requiring them to pay a fee or a fine to the store. These department store fines are not court orders and therefore there is no legal obligation on the part of the shoplifter to pay them. Unless the store takes you to civil court and obtains a judgment against you, there is no legal obligation to pay the fine.

It should be noted that the store does have the option of taking you to court for their losses (most likely small claims court) and therefore it is up to you whether you decide to settle the matter by paying the fine, or risk having them take you to civil court.

Practically speaking, most stores would never take you to court in these circumstances because it is very expensive for them to do so. Since many shoplifters have little financial means, it doesn't make sense to sue because they would be unable to collect any money even if they were successful in court. 

Department stores are also private property and thus have the power to ban shoplifters from entering their stores. Sometimes malls will collectively require a shoplifter to pay a fine in order to be unbanned from entering the mall or shopping center.


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Please note: Mark Zinck is a paid criminal lawyer. All information provided on this website is of a general nature and should not replace or be relied on as legal advice. Each case is different and legal decisions ought to be made in consultation with a practising lawyer. Your use of this website is governed by our Terms and Conditions.