Theft in Alberta can take many forms

Theft in Alberta can take many forms

By Matthew Deshaye

Theft is one of the most commonly charged offences prosecuted in Alberta. According to Statistics Canada, there were 3,526 charges for theft over $5,000 laid in Alberta in 2022, along with 83,324 charges for theft under $5,000 in that same period.

There are other theft-related charges in the Criminal Code, such as theft by a person holding power of attorney, motor vehicle theft and theft or forgery of a credit card.

A look through news reports uncovers other types of theft.

In December 2023, a woman in Olds, Alta., drove away in an unlocked Canada Post truck containing letters and packages. According to a news report, she was pursued by police for several kilometres until she collided with a police car and became stuck in a ditch.

Also that month, a B.C. man was found with skid steers and other heavy equipment stolen from businesses in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer and Airdrie. He is facing 19 charges for theft over $5,000, a news report states.

And in Westlock, Alta, someone stole 85 cattle during the fall, including two 900-kilogram bulls, four cows and 79 calves. “All told, that's $175,000 worth of cattle,” according to a news report.

If someone is convicted of theft over $5,000, they face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison if the charge is treated as an indictable offence, with lesser penalties given if the charge is prosecuted as a summary conviction.

If the value of what was stolen does not exceed $5,000, the maximum penalty is two years in jail.

If someone uses some degree of force, or even just threatens physical harm, while stealing something they could then be charged with robbery. That is a more serious form of theft and carries heavier penalties.

Car thefts on the rise

According to a news report, Alberta has the second-highest rate of auto theft in the country. It states the province saw an almost 17 per cent increase in stolen vehicles in 2022 as compared to the year before, and a 20 per cent year-over-year increase in theft from vehicles.

“There have been roughly 57 vehicles stolen every day, and 95 thefts from vehicles each day in 2022,” the article notes.

Nation-wide, Alberta accounts for one-fifth of stolen vehicles, “which makes the province second only to Saskatchewan for this crime,” the report states. “In addition, Alberta also accounts for one-fifth of theft from within vehicles in Canada, with more than 34,750 such incidents in 2022, second to Manitoba.”

As I stated in a previous blog post, the most targeted vehicles in Alberta are large pickup trucks, such as the Ford F-350 and Ram 1500. These vehicles are often stripped for their parts, used for other crimes or they are “revinned,” which means their vehicle identification number (VIN) is changed and they are resold to unsuspecting buyers.

Operation Cold Start

To help cope with winter’s cold temperatures, many people start a vehicle in their driveway and leave it idling for a short time before driving. This makes them vulnerable to theft, which is why provincial police forces have initiated Operation Cold Start.

“In colder weather, we tend to see more instances of vehicles being stolen after people have left them running to warm up,” says Sgt. Nick Wilsher of the Calgary Police Service (CPS).

“People start their cars to run the heat in the winter or the air conditioning in the summer, or simply for the convenience of being able to jump in and drive away quickly,” he adds. “Unfortunately, thieves can just as easily jump in the vehicle and drive away if the owner has left it unattended. It only takes seconds.”

While running, unattended vehicles can be a target, Wilsher says that work vehicles (including delivery vehicles) and pickup trucks are among the most common vehicles stolen in Calgary.

Between Oct. 26, 2023, and Jan. 4, 2024, the CPS received 114 reports of vehicles stolen while they were left running. To prevent that, it recommends that people:

  • Use a remote starter or stay with a vehicle as it warms up.
  • Never leave keys inside your vehicle.
  • Use a steering wheel lock.
  • Always keep vehicles locked.

The CPS also recommends that nothing of value be left in a vehicle. That includes cellphones, computers, clothing and documents with your address or personal information, such as a driver’s licence, vehicle registration documents and proof of insurance.

Remote starters can be a good option for warming up your car in the winter months, the CPS says, but there may be limitations, depending on the make or model.

“Ensure your remote starter does not allow someone to drive away without the key,” it states.

Penalties for motor vehicle theft

According to s.333.1 (1) of the Criminal Code, anyone convicted of stealing an automobile faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison if the charge is treated as an indictable offence. If the charge is prosecuted as a summary conviction, the maximum penalty is two years in jail. In either case, the value of the vehicle is not a factor in the sentencing.

Common defences to theft charges

After reviewing the disclosure and the defendant’s statements, a criminal lawyer can advise what is the best defence against a theft charge. Common defences include:

  • Lack of intent: To obtain a conviction, the Crown prosecutor must that the accused had the mens rea or criminal intent to commit an offence.
  • Colour of right: This defence denotes an honest belief in a state of facts which, if it existed, would be a legal justification. In cases of theft, it refers to an honest belief or mistake regarding the ownership of property. The accused may have understood that they had the proprietary right to use the stolen article, even if they were mistaken.
  • Identity concerns: Evidence of a theft can be a video showing someone taking the item in question. If the video recording is unclear or of low quality, a lawyer can raise identity concerns as a defence.

Contact us for assistance

Everyone in Canada is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We zealously defend our clients to ensure that they receive the best possible legal outcome. If you are under investigation or are facing criminal charges, contact Dunn & Associates. We can advise and defend you at every step of the way to ensure you get fair treatment before the law.