Break and enters are a real concern in Calgary

Break and enters are a real concern in Calgary

By Vincent Semenuk

The crime of break and enter (B&E) is one of the most common offences in Canada – and also one of the most misunderstood. The charge can be laid even if there is no forced entry. For example, if you enter someone’s home through an open window or an unlocked door with the intent to steal something, you could be charged with break and enter, even if no theft or property damage occurs.

This offence should not be confused with robbery (which I will discuss in a later post) that involves the use or threat of violence during the commission of a theft.

According to information released by Statistics Canada in August 2022, break and enters have been decreasing in recent years across Canada. The reports that on a national basis, B&Es fell 10 per cent in 2021 to 328 incidents per 100,000 population. During the last decade, the rate of B&Es has fallen 38 per cent.

B&Es ‘one of the more common forms of property crime’

“Despite this decrease, breaking and entering continued to be one of the more common forms of property crime,” the report states, noting that in 2021, more than 125,500 incidents were reported by police, accounting for 11 per cent of property crime.

According to StatsCan, Alberta and British Columbia saw the biggest drop in B&Es in 2021, with the number of reported violations dropping seven per cent in Alberta and five per cent in B.C.

But those numbers don’t tell the whole story, at least in Calgary where B&Es are on the rise. A Calgary Police Service (CPS) report looking at crime in the first quarter of 2022 notes that commercial robberies reached a six-year high in the first three months of 2022, with pharmacies and stores selling cannabis and cellphones the main targets.

Calgary B&Es ‘increased notably in March’

“For the first time since the start of the pandemic, property crime volumes started to increase towards the end of the first quarter,” the report states. “Commercial break and enters, and vehicle crimes increased notably in March.”

The CPS report found that in Calgary there were 1,189 commercial B&Es in the first three months of 2022, as compared to 835 the year before. There were 375 residential B&Es in the first quarter of 2022, compared to 264 in the first quarter of 2021. A third category simply called “other” lists 502 B&Es in the first three months of 2022 compared to 364 during the same time period the previous year.

Considering those numbers, it is not surprising Calgary shop owners are concerned. According to a media report, “business and restaurant owners along Calgary’s 17 Avenue S.W. have been struggling with pandemic and now, they are navigating a concern in crime.”

One coffee shop owner notes that “the first time we had our safe gone, floats from the tills, iPads, computers. And the second time, another random person took the till and then a week after that, they smashed the front door with a crowbar.”

The story also quotes the president of the Alberta Hospitality Association, who said that B&Es are recurring at a number of stores along the avenue.

“The break-ins are happening multiple times a week,” he says, adding that commercial glass replacement companies are challenged to meet the demand for replacement doors and windows.

Defences if you are charged with a B&E

With any crime, the Crown prosecutor has to prove you had the intention (mens rea) to do something you knew was illegal. Intoxication or other factors that impaired your state of mind at the time of the incident may allow your lawyer to argue you did not intend to commit a break and enter.

In order to find you guilty of committing a B&E, the Crown must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that you were the person who committed the offence. In a commercial setting, the offender’s image may have been captured on a video camera. If your fingerprints were found at the scene, the Crown still needs to show the fingerprints could not have been left at a time other than the B&E.

A criminal lawyer can also examine how the police conducted their investigation that led to the charge against you. If your rights, as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, were violated during that process, an application may be brought to exclude any evidence arising from that violation.

Penalties for break and enters

According to s. 348 (1) of the Criminal Code, B&Es that happen at someone’s home are indictable offences that carry a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life. If they occur elsewhere, they can be treated as indictable offences with the maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, or less severe penalties if the charge is prosecuted as a summary conviction.

The Code does give the trial judge leeway to impose a sentence that they think is fitting for the crime, and sometimes that can be far below the maximum sentences. For example, a woman in Westlock, Alta., was shown leniency by a judge after she was convicted of breaking into a butcher shop, along with her then-partner.

According to a media report, the trial judge rejected a joint-sentence submission for a $2,500 fine for the woman, and instead gave her a conditional discharge that included 25 hours of community work. In explaining his reasoning, the judge noted that the woman was the mother of two young children, supporting them on her long-term disability payments. She also had no previous criminal record and had ended her relationship with the co-accused.

“If you comply with all the terms of probation, you’re going to get a conditional discharge so that means you won’t have a criminal record,” the judge told the woman, according to the news report.

Dunn & Associates 

The right to counsel upon arrest is a constitutionally protected right under s. 10 (b) of the Charter. It states “everyone has the right on arrest or detention … to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right.”

If you are facing a break and enter charge, the experienced criminal defence team at Dunn & Associates can help. We will work diligently to obtain the best outcome with your charge.

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Criminal Justice