Will I Get a Criminal Record for Theft Under $5000?

Canada has one of the highest standards of living in the world by any metric. Whether it’s political stability, healthcare, security or good employment opportunities, people living in Canada enjoy a host of benefits that are envied around the world.

However, like any first-world country, Canada isn’t perfect – it has its share of crime, particularly theft. If you’ve followed Canadian news at all, you may have come across some high-profile heists over the years, some of which have a bizarre angle. The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist that took place over a few months in 2011 and 2012 is a particularly strange – and thoroughly Canadian – example.

Whether they are stealing real gold or “liquid gold” in the form of maple syrup, criminals often take huge risks to make off with hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. These high-profile heists might make headline news and enter public consciousness, but the vast majority of theft in Canada is generally not reported on at all.

The most common form of theft in Canada is shoplifting. This is defined as theft of goods under $5000, and generally seen as a less serious offence. Higher-value theft, such as that of a car or large-scale business fraud, is normally considered a serious criminal offence, with sentences involving up to 10 years in prison.

What happens in cases of theft under $5000?

Even if the theft involves goods under a certain amount ($5000), theft is a criminal offence in Canada. When you’re arrested and charged with theft, this information will appear on any background checks. You’ll also face court time, and if the conviction is successful, you’ll receive an entry on your criminal record.

Generally speaking, if the goods stolen amounted to less than $5000, there still a chance of being sentenced to jail time, up to a maximum of 2 years. This would only occur if the theft involved serious circumstances, such as a break-in or home invasion.

In the end, even though theft under $5000 is publicly considered “less serious” and probably won’t involve jail time, being arrested, charged and convicted of such an offence will be reflected on any background check done on you. This can jeopardize your career and be a serious obstacle to finding a job in the future.

What are the mitigating factors for theft?

Every case is different and will involve a variety of factors that will affect what information goes on your record – and if it can eventually be removed.

The biggest factor is age. In most cases that involve a minor, a criminal conviction can be expunged from the record after a few years have elapsed from the end of the sentence (if any).

The existence of a previous criminal conviction will also determine how lenient the court is with respect to the offence. If it’s a first-time offence, there’s a better chance of gaining the court’s leniency. The other circumstances of the theft, such as a minor theft from a convenience store, might also affect whether or not criminal charges are laid against you.

If the case involves other negative factors surrounding the theft, such as a breach of trust with respect to an employer (in the case of an employee stealing from the cash register), the court might be motivated to seek a full criminal conviction.

In some cases, criminal conviction can be avoided through “diversion.” If the circumstances surrounding the theft are favorable, the amount is considered minor, and it’s a first-time offence, a diversion program might be recommended by the court instead of a conviction. This would normally involve things like community service or attending a rehabilitation program. Once you complete your diversion program, your conviction is dismissed and will not appear on your record.

Note that these mitigating factors are contingent on future behavior. If you are convicted of another criminal charge, previous charges could be re-instated. In the end, the important thing to remember is that even theft under $5000 is a criminal act.

A successful conviction will result in an entry on a criminal record, and that will appear on any routine background checks. In some cases, there are ways to have your criminal convictions expunged from your record, such as applying for a pardon.


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