Shoplifting in Canada is not a separate criminal offence; rather it falls under the offence of theft. Most individuals caught shoplifting are charged by the police with either theft under $5,000 or theft over $5,000. Criminal charges relating to allegations of shoplifting for a first-time offender are often dealt with through diversion, and usually involve making a donation to a recognized charity. However, there are some circumstances where the police will exercise their discretion not to lay charges, or the security employees for the retail store will elect not to contact the police. What then?
Civil Recovery Letters
Well don’t be surprised if you get a letter in the mail a few weeks later demanding that you pay a fine. The letter will usually be addressed from a lawyer on behalf of the security or loss prevention company that was employed by the retail store. These letters are referred to as “civil recovery letters” and the reason for the fine is for companies to cover the costs of hiring private security to prevent shoplifting and catch those individuals attempting to steal merchandise. The fine usually ranges from $400 to $600 and you will be given a few weeks to pay the fine. The letter will may also indicate that if you do not pay the fine, a civil claim will be brought against you in Small Claims Court for the amount of the fine, plus interest and legal costs.
Do I have to Pay the Fine?
The simple answer is no. There is no court order requiring you to pay the fine. There is also no law that requires that you pay the fine. The hope is that you will receive this letter and simply agree to pay the amount of the fine. It is likely that many individuals pay the fine out of fear. Other individuals may pay the fine because they feel fortunate enough not to be charged with theft. Still, there may be others that may pay the fine because they view it as cheaper than having to hire a lawyer to fight it.
Can these companies seek to recover the expenses involved with shoplifting and preventing shoplifting? While there is no legal requirement on your part to pay the fine indicated in the letter, companies can bring a civil action in Small Claims Court. However, these claims are often not pursued, as it is simply not cost-effective to bring a claim. The leading decision regarding these civil recovery letters is Hudson’s Bay Company v. David James White  O.J. No. 2383 (Ont. Div. Ct.). In that case the defendant was alleged to have stolen women’s gloves valued at approximately $200. The Hudson’s Bay Company put forward a claim for $2,000 for damages, but was only awarded $100, which was increased to $300 on appeal.
What should I do if get a Shoplifting Fine?
You should consider speaking with a lawyer about a shoplifting fine. A lawyer will be in the best position to advise you what your legal options are, and what is the best way to proceed based upon the facts relating to the alleged shoplifting.
Contact me today if you have been charged with theft or you have received a civil recover letter relating to a shoplifting event.
See FAQs on Theft.
Here is a link to an article by the CBC regarding shoplifting fines.