Your Guide to Theft Charges by Theft Lawyers in Toronto
Table of Contents
- What is Theft?
- Investigation of Theft Charges in Toronto
- Bail Process and Conditions for Theft Charges in Toronto
- Penalties for Theft Charges in Toronto
- Defending Theft Charges in Toronto
- What’s Next?
- Theft & Fraud FAQs
What is Theft?
Theft is a type of non-violent property offence that covers a variety of illegal acts, including shoplifting or taking the personal property of a friend, family member, or stranger without their consent.
The relevant provisions for theft in the Criminal Code of Canada are:
According to the Code, a person commits theft when they take something that belongs to another person with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive them of that good.
Theft is generally divided into two categories:
- Theft in an amount over $5,000, and
- Theft in an amount equal to or less than $5,000.
In order to be found guilty of theft in Canada, the Crown Prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt each of the following elements:
- You moved something, caused something to be moved, or began to move something that belonged to someone else;
- You moved the property with the intent to steal it either temporarily or absolutely without the owner’s consent; and
- The approximate value of the property you tried to steal.
Other common variations of this type of offence include Possession of Stolen Property and Motor Vehicle Theft. If the theft involves violence or the threat of violence, you may be charged with Robbery.
Investigation of Theft Charges in Toronto
An investigation of a theft allegation in Toronto is typically initiated by a complaint from a witness to the alleged theft. This may be the alleged victim, who claims that their personal property was taken without their consent, or it may be someone who claims to have witnessed the theft, such as a loss prevention officer at a store. The police will attend the scene and request a written statement from the alleged victim and any other witnesses, then will launch an investigation.
The vast majority of theft investigations occur quickly. The alleged thief may even be present at the scene and in the custody of the loss prevention officer when the police arrive, which is often the case in shoplifting investigations. If the perpetrator of the theft is not present, police will likely access security footage or other records to find out who committed the offence.
After the police have gathered their evidence, they will arrest you if they believe you are the perpetrator. If you are not present at the scene, police will track you down or issue a warrant for your arrest.
After you have been charged, police will provide a package with all the evidence they collected, known as the “disclosure package”, to the Crown Prosecutor. You will have the right to access this disclosure package to see the evidence against you. Once you retain one of our lawyers, we will assist you obtaining the disclosure package, and we will review it with you to assess the strengths and weaknesses in the Crown’s case, as well as any legal defences that may be available to you.
Bail Process and Conditions for Theft Charges in Toronto
How do I get myself or a loved one out on bail for theft charges in Toronto?
If you have been charged with theft, it is not uncommon for police to release you at the scene on a release order. Police will provide you with a document outlining your charges and any appearances you must make. This document may also include conditions that you are required to follow while on release (such as not attending the location where the theft occurred).
However, a formal bail hearing may be required to secure your release, particularly if you have a criminal record, or if the theft allegations are more serious.
In order to conduct a bail hearing, you will be taken to the Toronto Police Service Division that is responsible for the alleged crime. The bail hearing must be held within 24 hours, a period that starts from the moment of arrest or detention rather than the time when you are brought into the Division.
The phone number for each division is 416-808-[Division Number – 00], so for example, the number for 52 Division is 416-808-5200. The addresses for each Division of the Toronto Police Service can be found here.
Alternatively, you may be held at the Toronto South Detention Centre:
160 Horner Ave
Toronto, ON M8Z 0C2
Loved ones are not able to contact you while you are detained. The police will not release any information to friends or family due to privacy laws. Your lawyer is the only person allowed to contact you. Once the police have verified your lawyer’s details, they will pass on information about your whereabouts, if requested.
Because of these difficulties while you are held in custody, it is best to appoint a competent defence lawyer as soon as possible to manage the legal processes and communicate with loved ones. After an arrest, the police must provide you with the opportunity to call a lawyer in private and, until that happens, stop questioning you.
Once you retain one of our experienced criminal defence lawyers, we will begin working to secure your release on bail. We will immediately do the following:
- Call in to the Division where you are being held in Toronto and speak to you;
- Contact the Prosecutor assigned to the bail hearing to start negotiating your release;
- Order and secure a copy of the police information package that details the allegations against you in advance of the bail hearing. This allows the lawyer to make meaningful representations to the court about why you should be released on bail; and
- Conduct either an in-person or teleconference bail hearing to secure your release.
At the time of your bail hearing, you will be transported to the courthouse associated with the particular police division, except for on weekends when Old City Hall holds weekend bail court.
Old City Hall is located at:
60 Queen St W
Toronto, ON M5H 2M3
When you attend your bail hearing, the Judge will consider the following factors:
- Is detention necessary to secure your attendance in court?
- Is detention necessary to protect the public from a substantial risk of re-offence?
- Is detention necessary in all the circumstances to maintain confidence in the administration of justice?
Although it is unlikely that you will be denied bail for this type of charge, tight restrictions may nevertheless be applied to your release.
Rest assured, we will work to not only secure your release but also to ensure the least restrictive set of bail conditions (including the minimum cash deposit).
In order for our lawyers to secure less stringent conditions, the Judge will need to be satisfied that you will attend court as required and that you pose no significant risk of harm to the public.
Our lawyers are often successful at persuading the Crown Prosecutor in charge of bail to let our clients out. If we can’t convince the prosecutor, we can conduct a formal bail hearing and work to convince the Court. Even if you are ultimately detained, we can appeal that decision on very short notice through a bail review, which is conducted at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
Where can I pay for bail for theft charges in Toronto?
If you or a loved one are charged with theft in Toronto and granted bail, you may be required to provide a cash deposit to secure release. The cash deposit can be paid at any bail hearing office (courthouse) in Ontario. If you live in Ottawa, you can pay bail there for someone detained in Toronto.
Bail hearing offices in Toronto are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The simplest way to pay bail is usually to pay it at the courthouse where the bail hearing was held. For instance, at Old City Hall, you can pay the cash deposit at Room 7 on the ground floor. If you are held at the Toronto South Detention Centre, bail can also be paid there.
In Ontario, because of the prevalence of Justices of the Peace and Judges requiring a surety, various bail programs provide an alternative to a surety. The contact number for the Toronto Bail Program is 416-314-3765.
To pay your own bail, you can make a payment after your hearing, assuming you have sufficient funds with you to do so.
How do I change my release conditions for theft charges in Toronto?
Release on bail with theft charges may include restrictions that impact your day-to-day life. This could include conditions to refrain from:
- Interacting with the alleged victim,
- Attending the alleged victim’s home or place of work,
- Leaving your house (i.e. house arrest),
- Staying out beyond a certain time (i.e. curfew),
- Breaking any laws,
- Using drugs or alcohol,
- Possessing weapons,
- Possessing firearms,
- Visiting certain places, and/or
The Judge can also impose some additional conditions, such as:
- Residing where approved,
- Reporting to probation,
- Attending counselling, and/or
- Maintaining or seeking employment.
A variety of factors will be considered when determining your precise conditions, including:
- Your criminal history,
- Your physical and mental condition,
- Your history of drug/alcohol usage,
- The nature of the alleged theft,
- The likelihood that you will flee,
- Whether you have stable employment,
- Whether you have stable living arrangements, and
- Whether you have ties to the community.
If you have already been released, at least for the short term, it is critical that you make arrangements to abide by your conditions until they can be changed. Breaching the terms of your release can result in further charges or a revocation of your bail, as well as a forfeiture of any cash paid to secure your release. It is important to take these conditions seriously.
Once the matter is in court, we can work with the Crown Prosecutor to alter your conditions. This includes either adding exceptions to some of the conditions or eliminating them altogether.
If your court date is far away and you cannot wait until then, we can arrange to have the matter dealt with sooner. Our first priority is always to stabilize your release conditions. That way, you will not feel pressured to plead guilty because of the restrictive terms of your release. Once the conditions are manageable and minimally intrusive to your daily routine, we can focus 100% of our attention on defending the case.
Penalties for Theft Charges in Toronto
Since a wide array of acts fall under the offence of theft, there is also a wide range of potential penalties if you are found guilty. Your sentence can range anywhere from a discharge (i.e. a finding of guilt, but no criminal conviction), to a fine and/or probation, to a period of jail time.
The Code outlines the maximum allowable punishment for theft as follows:
- For theft in an amount over $5,000:
- No more than 10 years’ imprisonment;
- For theft in an amount equal to or less than $5,000:
- No more than 2 years’ imprisonment if the Crown proceeds by indictment, or
- No more than 2 years’ less a day imprisonment if the Crown proceeds by summary conviction.
The potential sentences available to you will depend on a variety of factors, including the amount that was taken, the relationship between you and the alleged victim, your criminal history, and other applicable personal factors.
While a number of factors could increase the likelihood of jail, two of the most significant factors are:
- The theft was over $5,000; and/or
- The theft occurred in the course of employment, or another trust-based relationship.
If either of these factors are present in your case, the Crown will almost always seek a jail sentence.
In addition to the immediate penalties resulting from a conviction for theft, it can also have negative impacts on your future. You may have trouble securing employment in the field of your choice. This is especially the case for roles that require handling money or valuable items. The lifelong criminal record that results from a conviction can also hinder immigration, travel, and can cause child custody issues.
Therefore, even if you intend on accepting responsibility for this type of offence, it is worthwhile to explore your options and consider all the possible penalties. Often, good representation can result in no criminal record. Furthermore, a community-based sentence may be obtained even where the Crown is seeking jail time.
Rest assured, our lawyers will work hard to defend you so that you are not saddled with the consequences of a criminal conviction for theft. In fact, we can canvass a range of sentencing options with the Prosecutors that will either leave you with no criminal record or impose minimal restrictions on your liberty after sentencing. To learn more about potential non-criminal resolutions, please visit our Resolutions page, or read our FAQ on resolutions and other sentencing options.
Defending Theft Charges in Toronto
What are the best defences to theft charges in Toronto?
With theft charges, the defences that may be available to you depend on the facts of your case. In general, the best defences for theft are:
- Factual Innocence: This is usually the strongest defence because the facts and the evidence do not support you being there, causing the theft, or other basic elements of the offence. This could include:
No mental intent: A common defence available in theft cases is that you did not intend to take the property. A basic example would be if you accidentally walked out of a store with an item you did not pay for.
You owned the property: You cannot steal what is actually yours. Therefore, if you are able to establish that you had a proprietary or possessory interest in the item, you may be able to defend yourself against the charges. Documents proving ownership of the property will likely be of significant assistance in raising this defence. However, even if you have a proprietary or possessory right in the good, if you take it from another person by fraudulent means, you could still be charged with theft in certain circumstances. For example, you could not use the proprietary interest you have in your vehicle to steal it from an impound lot without paying the fee.
Identity: In some circumstances where the offence was not recorded by surveillance footage, or the footage is poor quality, you may be able to raise an identity defence. For example, authorities could have made a mistake in identifying you as the perpetrator based on the poor quality of the footage. In order to effectively raise this defence, you may need corroborative evidence, such as an alibi to where you were at the time of the offence.
- Violation of Constitutional Rights: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms sets out your rights before and after your arrest. If the police fail to follow these rights, it could aid in your defence.
- Colour of Right: This defence may arise when you honestly believed you had a lawful right to property, when in reality you did not. For example, if you took your friend’s car with the honest but mistaken belief that he was lending it to you, even though he was not. In order to raise this defence, you will need to establish a factual basis to show that you honestly and reasonably believed in this particular state of affairs.
The Crown is required to prove that you not only took property that was not lawfully yours, but that you intended to take that property. While the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the offence, you may bear some responsibility in raising certain defences at trial.
The availability and strength of any defence depends entirely on the specific facts of your case. Our lawyers have significant experience assessing potential defences in theft cases and presenting any and all available defences to the Court at trial. Even if you believe that you will be found guilty, it is important that you obtain a legal opinion about the defences that may be available to you.
How can I help defend theft charges in Toronto?
If you have been charged with theft in Toronto, the following can help your lawyer build a strong defence:
- Providing your lawyer with a detailed statement about what happened;
- Collecting and maintaining all documents and records about the event;
- Gathering a list of witnesses that may support your version of events, if applicable; and
- Logging any relevant texts, emails, phone calls or photographic evidence.
As soon as you are released on bail, you should start to gather information that may be of use to your lawyer. If you are uncertain what information may be relevant, contact one of our lawyers immediately to create a plan of action.
If you are truly proactive about the matter, consider doing the following:
- Secure proof of employment;
- Secure reference letters;
- Enroll in counselling (anger management/substance abuse/parenting);
- Secure a record of prescriptions; and
- Secure a record of any mental health conditions you suffer from.
These steps can be very helpful to building an effective defence (or convincing the Prosecutor to drop the charges altogether).
What can a lawyer do to help me defend against theft charges in Toronto?
As we start preparing your defence by examining police actions and the evidence against you, there are certain defence strategies that can be used to aid your cause. Some of these include:
- Assembling documents, photographs, texts, etc. that contradict the allegation and support your defence;
- Gathering evidence from witnesses that support your version of events;
- Identifying mistakes in the actions of the police, such as Charter breaches;
- Uncovering administrative/systemic errors, such as “Jordan delay,” non-disclosure, lost or destroyed evidence, etc.; and
- Finding weaknesses or “holes” in the Crown’s case that may make it difficult or Impossible for them to establish the elements of the offence.
As discussed, theft cases cover a vast amount of ground and are very fact-specific.
We have tried our best to provide a general outline of what you can expect if you find yourself in this situation, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
To learn more about how we can help, please contact our team of Theft Lawyers. We will conduct a thorough review of your situation and tailor a precise strategy that targets your successful defence.
- What is theft under $5000 / theft over $5000 in Canada?
- What are the best defences to theft charges?
- What is fraud?
- What are the best defences to fraud?
- How can I get my theft or fraud charges dropped?