Public Law

Section 2

Lesson 7: Offences Against Property

In the eyes of society, offences against property are not generally considered as serious as offences against people. Still, many property offences are considered criminal offences, and some carry very severe penalties. A few of the most common ones will be discussed in what follows.

Theft and Robbery

Taking or using property that belongs to another person without that person's permission is considered theft under the Criminal Code.' It makes no difference whether the item was taken permanently or temporarily "borrowed."

Theft:' taking another's property without consent knowing that it belongs to someone else.

Theft under $5,000 carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail, while theft over $5,000 can net you up to ten years.

The crime of robbery is much more serious than theft because it includes features like threats, violence, and/or the use of weapons, and it involves a confrontation with the owner of the property. The maximum penalty for robbery is life in prison.

Robbery: theft accompanied by force or threats

Possession of Stolen Goods

Were you aware that simply possessing something that you know was stolen is a serious criminal offence? If the object happens to be a motor vehicle and the serial number has been removed, the law will assume that the vehicle was stolen. What this means is that you have to be very careful about goods you obtain; if you have reason to believe that they may have been stolen, stay away from them.

Break and Enter

It is a basic belief of our society that people have a right to feel secure in their homes. In days gone by, this belief was expressed in the adage "A man's home is his castle." If a person is found in another person's home with the intention of committing an offence, even if that person didn't have to break in, he or she can be charged with unlawfully being in a dwelling. Of course, if the person broke into the building, the crime is that much worse. In fact, simply possessing housebreaking tools is a criminal offence.

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Test Yourself:

1. Stan and Ricardo are friends. Stan leaves his stereo system at Ricardo's house over the weekend.' On Monday, Ricardo and his family leave for a holiday, and Stan wants his stereo back.' He goes to Ricardo's home, pries open a basement window, climbs in, and retrieves the stereo. Unfortunately, he sets off the home's security system and the police catch him with the stereo. They charge him with break and enter and theft under $5,000. Will these charges likely stick? Explain why or why not.

Turn to the Suggested Answers at the end of this lesson and compare your answers with the ones given there.

Break and enter: to enter, with the intention of committing an indictable offence, a premises owned by another without permission by breaking or opening anything closed


When someone deliberately damages or destroys someone else's property, or interferes with his or her enjoyment of property, that person is committing the crime of mischief. As you would expect, the penalties imposed for this offence depend upon the severity of the act. The maximum penalty for mischief is imprisonment for ten years, unless the act endangers someone's life, in which case life imprisonment is possible-a pretty severe punishment for an offence with such an innocent-sounding name.

Test Yourself:

2. Have you and/or your friends ever gone out on Halloween, grad night, or at any other time and spray-painted a wall, thrown eggs at cars, or committed any other acts of mischief? If so, do you consider yourself or your friends criminals?' Why or why not?

Turn to the Suggested Answers at the end of this lesson and compare your answers with the ones given there.

Mischief:' damage to another person's property or interference with another person's use of his or her property.


Fraud is the crime of intentionally deceiving someone so as to cause the victim a loss. One common example of fraud is knowingly writing cheques on a bank account that has insufficient funds to cover them. Telemarketing scams-something we hear about a great deal today-provide another example. As usual, the severity of the punishment for fraud depends on the amount of money defrauded. If the amount is over $5,000, the maximum punishment is ten years in jail.

Test Yourself:

3. Mila wrote a cheque for payment of an outstanding bill. She thought that her pay cheque from work had been automatically deposited into her account, but due to a computer error this hadn't yet happened. When the cheque she wrote bounced (that is, failed to clear her bank account because of insufficient funds), Mila was charged with fraud. Will she likely be able to present an effective defense in court? Explain your answer.

4. Batool has a marketing scheme whereby she sends letters out to people telling them if they send her $10 and a self-addressed envelope, they'll get rich quickly. When people reply to Batool's letters, she sends them a note telling them to send out letters like hers, asking for $10, to other people.

Would the courts consider this fraud? Why or why not?

Turn to the Suggested Answers at the end of this lesson and compare your answers with the ones given there.

Fraud: the intentional deception of someone so that the person sustains a loss

Motor-Vehicle Offences

Most people of high-school age have either recently got their driver's licenses or are looking forward to getting them. This legal permission to operate a potentially lethal piece of machinery on public streets is one of the greatest responsibilities with which young people are entrusted; it's terribly important that this responsibility be taken seriously. One part of this responsibility is learning something about the law regarding the operation of motor vehicles.

Suggested Answers

  1. No, the charges shouldn't stick. Stan had no intention of committing an indictable offence (a severe criminal offence); he was merely taking back his own property. This lack of intention would mean that no break-and-enter offence had occurred. And because Stan took no one's property but his own, no theft had taken place either. Stan might, however, be found guilty of a lesser offence.
  2. Answers will vary. Did you present arguments to support your ideas?
  3. Yes, Mila should be able to present a successful defense. Fraud must be intentional. Generally speaking, fraud with respect to NSF (not sufficient funds) cheques involves writing cheques on bank accounts that don't really exist or that have been closed. To accidentally bounce a cheque isn't committing a criminal offence of fraud.
  4. Yes, this is fraud. Batool is knowingly tricking people into thinking that they will receive something of value in return for their money.