*2023 Results: Approx. 99% of Mark Zinck's clients avoided a criminal record (conviction) for charges of theft, fraud, assault, mischief and threats.

Shoplifting fines in Canada

A fine for shoplifting is sometimes a criminal record.

There are several different types of “fines” that are associated with getting caught shoplifting. Only one form of a fine equals a criminal record. Fines that are ordered by the court for shoplifting related offences such as theft under $5000 are permanent criminal conviction records in Canada that will show up on all background checks.

If you are being asked to pay a fine, it may also be in relation to a civil demand letter from the store or a trespassing fine issued by the police as an alternative to pressing theft charges. A fine for trespassing, often in the amount of $65, is sometimes issued by the police as part of a warning for someone who gets caught. Trespassing fines are normally provincial offences (infractions), which may or may not be issued in addition to Criminal Code charges.

There are 3 main types shoplifting fines:
  1. Criminal code sentencing fines
  2. Trespassing provincial fines
  3. Store issued fines and civil demand letters
These are not mutually exclusive meaning a person could receive just one or all three of these. Most people who are criminally charged receive both an Appearance Notice or Undertaking and a store fine/civil demand.

Criminal record fines as sentences upon finding the accused guilty

Those who are caught and criminally charged with shoplifting will receive a fingerprinting and court date from the police. If they are subsequently found guilty a judge may sentence them to pay a fine. Even if the fine amount is only $1 it is considered a criminal record and will show up on all forms of background checks. The only way to get rid of a shoplifting criminal record after paying the fine is to apply for and receive a record suspension from the federal government.

A fine is simply a sentencing option for judges in Canada in addition to probation, jail, or house arrest. It may be included as part of a sentence. If you are a first time offender receiving a fine in the Ontario Court of Justice it is devastating because it will show up on all background checks and must be disclosed as a conviction when applying for jobs.

For those who already have a criminal record they may be happy to receive a fine as an alternative to a jail sentence. Everyone who gets charged is in a different position to begin with. A judge may be giving someone a break by fining them or essentially ruining their life.

Shoplifting is an offence that is committed by people of all backgrounds and financial means. While some people have already been labeled as criminals and have nothing left to lose, most first and some second time offenders are not in this position. They have worked very hard to build their careers or are students, immigrants, etc. working to enrich their future. These people have a lot to lose if they receive a fine because it is a criminal record for theft.

For them, the fine amount is trivial compared to the criminal record because employers, family members, and other people may not trust them anymore if they have a known history of stealing.

How much is the fine for shoplifting?

In the Canadian criminal justice system there is no set limit on the maximum fine amount because both theft and fraud under $5000 are hybrid indictable (Crown elect) offences. If the Crown elects to proceed summarily (aka summary conviction) the maximum fine for shoplifting is $5000. In cases where the Crown proceeds via indictment a judge can fine the defendant for any amount they like. The courts will look at the defendant’s history, amount stolen, and other case factors in determining what fine value is appropriate.

How long will I have to pay the fine?

This is also up to the judge. Usually a fine will be ordered to be paid within 30 days, 90 days, or 6 months. If the defendant does not pay the fine they will be subject to collection and will not be eligible to apply for a record suspension until they do so.

Trespassing fines

In cases where the police choose not to charge the accused shoplifter, they may issue a trespassing fine as part of the warning/caution process. Most police forces in Ontario set the fine amount at $65 but it can be higher. This is a provincial offence ticket and not a criminal charge.

How to tell if a fine is a criminal record or not

If you have received an Appearance Notice (Form 9) or Undertaking (Form 10) you have been criminally charged by the police and should hire a criminal lawyer immediately to start working on your case. If you do not already have a criminal record it is essential that you do everything possible to avoid being issued a fine by the court since that will always result in a criminal record. A judge cannot sentence an offender to pay a fine without giving them a criminal record in Canada. An absolute or conditional discharge is not available when a fine is issued.

If you only received a $65 trespassing ticket then that is not criminal. The trespassing ticket is usually on a yellow or white piece of paper. It should be noted that some people will receive both a trespassing fine AND criminal charges (Appearance Notice or Undertaking) so make sure to check the papers you received from the police. Anyone who must attend for fingerprints is criminally charged and should hire a lawyer immediately.

Store issued fines

A lot of stores will give the shoplifter a piece of paper saying they have to pay the store money. Some stores may also have a lawyer mail them a letter afterwards threatening to sue them if they do not pay a set amount. The amounts requested usually range from $350 - $750. These letters are called civil demand letters. Essentially, the store is offering to settle a potential lawsuit for the set amount.

In most of these cases the stores have already recovered any property that was lost because most people are arrested at the scene. The demand letters work on the theory that somehow the shoplifter is responsible for their security costs. While it is possible for a store to sue someone who ignores a civil demand letter to the best of our knowledge such cases are rare.

These civil demand letters are not really “fines” at all, but stores will use that word perhaps in an attempt to add some fear or confusion into the minds of the shoplifter. This may increase the likelihood that they pay without bothering to do their research beforehand.

Store issued fines + criminal shoplifting charges

It is often the case that those who are criminally charged with shoplifting also receive a civil demand letter (aka store fine). These are completely unrelated, different processes. While the criminal charges are extremely serious and require immediate legal representation, the civil demand letter is not something that is legally binding; however in theory the person could be sued if they don’t pay it.

If I pay the fine will the Crown drop the criminal charges?

There is very little connection between the paying of the store issued fine and the dropping of the criminal charges. Remember the store cannot drop the charges only the Crown Attorney. As such, paying a store fine has nothing directly to do with the criminal case.

In the event that the store fine (civil demand) is paid the accused’s lawyer may be able to use this to motivate the Crown to drop the case given that the store has been enriched (perhaps unjustly) as a result of the incident. Providing the alleged victim (the store) with money could be seen as a mitigating factor for both the Crown and the judge in cases where the accused paid the fine amount on the letter (perhaps before speaking with a lawyer).

Can a shoplifting fine impact my immigration status with IRCC??

If you are criminally charged (have a fingerprint date) the outcome of the case can impact your IRCC status and future applications. While a fine alone probably won’t lead to deportation, it is a criminal record that will show up on all employment background checks and when travelling to the USA and other countries. A judge may also choose jail instead of a fine if the shoplifter is found guilty which could lead to deportation (particularly if more than 6 months of jail are imposed). The maximum available jail sentence in shoplifting cases is 2 years in prison as per the Criminal Code.

If I get a fine for shoplifting will it show up on my police record?

If the police are called and respond to the shoplifting incident they will keep information in their databases about the incident indefinitely (currently forever). This information is accessible to all law enforcement in Canada and the USA. It can show up in certain circumstances such as when travelling or if there are subsequent incidents in the future.

If the police were not called and the incident was just between the store and the accused shoplifter then no information would be collected by the police. Most stores will call the police and report the incident though, particularly larger stores (Superstore, Loblaws, Walmart, Sephora, The Bay etc.). If the police showed up there will be a record of the incident even if they do not lay criminal charges or issue a trespassing ticket.

Can I be charged after receiving a fine or after the police warned me?

You absolutely can be charged after an incident occurs. Since shoplifting is a hybrid indictable offence in Canada there is no time limit for the police to press charges. If the police showed up at the store and spoke to you and released you without issuing a Form 9 or Form 10 you probably won’t be charged.

If you only interacted with the store security/loss prevention or the store owner you may still be charged at a later time. Sometimes the police called afterwards or they are busy when called and the incident is assigned to an officer after the accused shoplifter is let go. The police will investigate afterwards and consider pressing charges.

The highest risk cases are ones where the person was asked by store security to go back to their office and they refused, subsequently went back to their car and drove off. These cases are reported to the police as a suspect fleeing the scene after committing theft (or fraud). The license plate and suspect description will be reported to the police and checked against Ministry of Transportation records in hopes of identifying the person and laying charges.

In cases where the suspect was driving someone else’s car the police may show up to the address of the registered owner to ask questions and investigate in hopes of identifying and charging the alleged shoplifter.

What will the police do if they decide to press charges?

If the police decide to lay charges they may show up at the person’s house or workplace, but will normally call first from an Unknown/blocked number to ask that the shoplifter turn themselves in. If they call and can’t get through or are ignored they will show up in person to arrest the person. Those who have a history of charges or prior warnings are more likely to be charged.

Each police force in Ontario operates differently so chances of charges being laid depend a lot on where the incident happened as well. There are many factors that can lead to a case being considered more serious (beyond the dollar value of the items themselves) and those present a higher likelihood of eventual criminal charges as well.

If you have been given a shoplifting fine by the store or a trespassing ticket by the police and have questions about possible charges, police information management, IRCC/immigration, etc. we are happy to discuss these concerns with you on the phone via a paid consultation. In the event that you are criminally charged in the future we will apply the consultation fee to our legal fees to defend the charges.

If something happened that you want to talk about, give us a call for a no obligation quote. If you have been charged with shoplifting, or worried you may be in the future, please also see our page on theft under $5000 for more information.

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*2023 Results: the percentage of 99% of clients avoiding a criminal record (conviction) stated on this page is based solely on Lawyer Mark Zinck's personal representation of approximately 2000 criminal defence case clients as of the year 2023. Past results are not necessarily an indication of future results.


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   Criminal Information:

   We provide:
  • Flat fee pricing
  • 99%+ non-conviction success rate
  • U.S. travel advice and information
  • Help with related immigration/IRCC issues
  • Employment background check advice and services
  • Fingerprints and records destruction services
  • A clear goal of getting the charges dropped without a trial
  • Vulnerable Sector records suppression help
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  • Experienced, focused counsel