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Shoplifting is not a legal term. While most people associate it with youthful mischief, but offenders don’t just walk away with a warning, it’s a criminal offence. In Toronto, shoplifting is considered theft, which falls into eitherTheft Under $5000or Theft Over $5000 and can be punishable by jail. A person can receive a jail sentence for Theft Under.

For either of these charges, you can face a sentence of imprisonment. So in short: yes, you can go to jail for shoplifting.

Fortunately, the legal system doesn’t tend to imprison shoplifters, and certainly not for a minor crime on a first offence. A number of factors are taken into consideration when deciding on the sentencing for shoplifting charges (theft). Three important factors are:

  • Severity: Theft over $5000 carries harsher penalties than theft under $5000.
  • Nature: Theft that involves violence or a threat/fear of violence is more likely to result in imprisonment.
  • History: The sentencing for a first-time offence for theft under $5000 is less likely to result in imprisonment. Repeat offences are more likely to carry harsher sentences.

Theft Under $5000

Shoplifting is the most common form of theft in Canada. In most instances, shoplifting falls into the theft under $5000 category. As the name suggests, it involves the theft of goods totalling less than $5000.

Although this is considered the less serious of the two theft categories, jail time is still a possibility. The maximum term of imprisonment for Theft Under $5000is 2-years.

For a summary offence, fines up to $5000 and or 6 months imprisonment are possible.

Theft Over $5000

Theft where the stolen goods totals over $5000 is Theft Over $5000. This is less common in instances of shoplifting. It often involves larger items such as motor vehicle theft.

Related: The Difference Between Theft, Robbery, & Burglary


Instances of shoplifting in Toronto have been on the rise over the past 5 years. As a result, it has been a strain on police resources to respond to what amount to relatively minor crimes. Starting November 1st, 2018, Toronto police implemented a pilot program called Shop Theft.

The Shop Theft Release Program is designed to streamline the process of dealing with minor shoplifting in Toronto. Often, it takes police hours to respond to these calls. Generally, other more urgent calls are taken first.

So, in addition to using up valuable police resources, shoplifting results in long downtime for Loss Prevention Officers and can result in the arbitrary detention of culprits.

The goal of the Shop Theft pilot program is to reduce these strains, as well as increasing efficiency and consistency. If the right conditions are met, minor shoplifting can be dealt with over the phone. This allows for faster release, reduces downtime for LPOs and frees up police to deal with more urgent calls.

In theory, this practice is intended to be better for all parties involved.

Shop Theft Conditions

For the Shop Theft Release Program to occur the situation needs to meet the following requirements include, but are not limited to:

  • The occurrence is non-violent
  • Total value of the theft is under $1000
  • The accused is at least 18 years of age
  • The accused has valid ID

If the call determines that a police officer is not necessary, then the LPO proceeds to file the forms and release the culprit.

Both the accused and the LPO are able to request an officer if they choose. Police reserve the rights to lay charges at a later date.


Although shoplifting generally has smaller punishments, especially for first-time offenders, the long-term effects are far-reaching. While it’s possible to receive simply probation, community service and/or a fine, a criminal record can have a big impact on your life. So, it’s essential to hire a good Toronto theft lawyer.

criminal record will affect your future. A few factors it can impact include:

  • Making it difficult to find a job
  • Losing your current employment
  • Travel restrictions
  • Harsher future sentencing
  • Loss of rights

To protect your future and mitigate the potential repercussions of shoplifting charges, a theft lawyer is essential.


If you or a loved one are facing theft charges in Toronto, you need an experienced theft lawyer. William Jaksa has over a decade of experience as a Toronto criminal defence lawyer. He understands that you are not your charges, and does his best to help you receive the best outcome for your charges and your future.

Contact William Jaksa today for a consultation.

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