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What To Expect When Being Charged With Shoplifting Or Other Summary Offences: The Consequences And Options That You Could Take

Let’s say for example that you were caught shoplifting at a store and have been charged with theft under $5000.00.  Is there a chance that you will be sent to jail? Will you get a record? What will happen next?

Theft under $5000.00 is an example of an offence that is punishable by summary conviction. As per the Criminal Code (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46) Section 334(b)(ii), anyone who commits theft where the value of the property stolen is not a testamentary instrument nor exceeds five thousand dollars, is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction. Summary conviction offences are considered to be less serious offences and carry less severe penalties. Contrast theft under $5000.00 to Theft over $5000.00 as per Section 334(a) of the Criminal Code, which is instead an indictable offence.

Other examples of offences which can be dealt summarily are:

  • Careless Driving
  • Unlicensed Driving
  • Assault 
  • Causing a disturbance
  • Breach of probation
  • Trespassing
  • DUI’s
  • Traffic Offences.

So what is the difference between indictable and summary offences? Indictable offences usually entail more serious penalties or punishments. In keeping with our theft example, theft over $5000.00 carries a punishment of imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years. Depending on factors such as how much the value of the stolen property was over $5000.00 and the conduct of the accused during and after the act will affect the potential range of punishments in an indictable offence. 

On the other hand, summary conviction offences in the Criminal Code do not usually specify the punishments. The reason for this is that the Courts understand that sometimes people do make mistakes. The Courts want to be able to rehabilitate a person who has made a mistake so that they can continue to be productive members of society. This is especially true if the act is not as serious as other crimes. If a person does not have a prior criminal record and is willing to take responsibility for their actions, more options will be open to that person to resolve their mistake instead of going through further court proceedings and the possibility of jail time.  

Furthermore, for most summary offences the accused is not arrested unless the accused is found committing the crime while taking place.  Instead, the accused is provided with a Notice to Appear.  A person charged with a summary offence does not need to appear if they can arrange for a lawyer or an agent appear on their behalf, unless the Judge specifically requests that the accused themselves appear, or if it is the actual trial. It is important that the accused complies with the Notice to Appear, or they risk getting another Criminal charge. 

Summary Offences should still be taken seriously as they are still criminal offences and will still appear on a criminal record check if you are found guilty of the offence. While most summary offence matters are heard within 18 months from when the charges were laid, it is important for the accused to act immediately and deal with their criminal matter as soon as they could. One possible option that accused could look at is the Alternative Measures Program (AMP). If the accused has never been convicted of a crime or is a first time offender, persons charged with minor Summary offences may apply for AMP. AMP is designed so that persons with less serious offences may accept responsibility for their actions without needing to proceed via trial and thereby saving time and legal fees. Some possible alternative measures include community service, donating to a recognized charitable group, writing an apology letter, or a combination of various measures. People who successfully complete AMP would not receive a criminal record. Depending on the type of criminal charge there may be other options that an accused can take – for example for less serious assault offences the accused can look at discussing Peace Bonds or Conditional Discharges. 

Besides the above options, the accused can also decide to proceed to trial. An accused must proceed to trial if he or she denies any responsibility for the Criminal Charge. However, the risk in proceeding with trial is that there is a possibility that the accused would not succeed at trial. If the accused does not succeed at trial, they will be convicted of a Criminal Charge and would thereby face punishment. Part 27 of the Criminal Code Sections 785 – 794 provide information as to what happens if one has been convicted of a Summary offence. Section 787(1) of the Criminal Code outlines the general penalty that Summary convictions face: that unless otherwise provided by law, every person who is convicted of an offence punishable on summary conviction is liable to a fine of not more than $5,000.00 or to a term of imprisonment of not more than two years less a day, or to both. Summary conviction trials usually take place in front of a judge alone in the Provincial Court of Alberta.  There are never jury trials for a summary conviction. 

It would be a good idea to discuss with a lawyer the pros and cons of taking alternative measures to resolve your summary offence criminal matter and compare and contrast it with the option of proceeding to trial. Contact our lawyers at Shim Law to determine your best options in dealing with a summary criminal charge.

Contact Us

Please contact Rafael via info@shimlaw. ca or book a consultation online if you have been charged with shoplifting and we will develop a defence strategy for your individual needs.  

About Rafael

Rafael completed his Juris Doctor from the University of Calgary, where he also graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. During law school, Rafael volunteered with Pro Bono Students Canada as a Project Coordinator for the Immigration Project, and with Student Legal Assistance as a student caseworker, providing legal services to diverse clients.


Rafael is an active member in the Filipino Calgarian community and can provide services in Tagalog (Filipino) and English.

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