FRAUD / IDENTITY THEFT
The Criminal Code contains a variety of offences designed to punish people for defrauding any person, organization or the public purse of anything of value, including money, property, financial instruments or even their very identity. Frauds of this sort can be enormous in size, and when any one instance of dishonesty causes an actual or potential loss of $5,000 or more, the police and Crown have the option of prosecuting by “indictment”, which opens much greater penalties and sentences.
To successfully prosecute a fraud requires the police to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused knew what he or she was doing was deceitful or untrue.
In today’s era of “convenience transactions”, in which credit cards, lines of credit and loans can be obtained on-line or over the phone, there has been an explosion of “identity theft”, in which a fraudster pretends to be a real person and obtains credit. Because the consequences can ruin the innocent, the provincial government has recently “beefed up” its enforcement and prosecution. Most municipal police forces, and all of the major ones (including the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP) have specialized units dedicated to detecting, investigating and prosecuting identity theft and other forms of fraud. Similarly, the British Columbia Crown Counsel office has specialized fraud prosecutors in all major centres, as well as one centralized, province-wide group of prosecutors in downtown Vancouver, whose mandate includes going after and prosecuting more sophisticated forms of fraud.
Because the stakes are higher, and because the prosecution has specialized police and lawyers lined up against suspects, and accused needs an experienced fraud criminal defence lawyer at his or her side. A successful defence usually requires thorough and sound understanding of the most important legal principles, experience and comfort with files that often generate many thousands of pages of documents, a proven track record of successfully challenging searches, including search warrants, and time-honoured, tested trial skills are usually what make the difference.
For the vast majority of Canadians, the most common experience with the police and the criminal law relates to property crime. Whether it is minor vandalism and mischief, theft, “hot” or “fenced” property, fraud (see above), or property crimes that include features of violence (like robbery or breaking and entering), there is an entire section of the Criminal Code devoted to describing, outlawing and punishing property crime.
Theft is charged wherever the police believe they can prove that one person took something valuable from someone else, without having a legitimate claim to it. It can involve virtually any form of property and relate to something as small as shoplifting, to money or property of almost priceless value.
Possession of Stolen Property is the offence of having or possessing something that a person knows rightfully belongs to someone else. Police will charge, and the Crown will prosecute, even in cases where the accused does not actually have the item in their physical possession – having “control” is often enough.
Robbery is a very serious offence involving the combination of theft (or an attempt) along with violence, or an attempt to be violent. The maximum penalty is life in prison, and the Parliament (the Government of Canada) recently changed the law to ensure that “house arrest” sentences are no longer available in the case of robbery.
Breaking and Entering is an offence that combines going into a place without authority (even if nothing is “broken” in the process), either with the intent to commit an offence, or actually committing an offence. Where the place is a residential dwelling house, the Crown and courts treat the situation as being very serious and the maximum penalty is life in prison. Like robbery, “house arrest” jail sentences are no longer available.
Home Invasion is an offence that has recently caught the attention of the media and the public, particularly in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, in places like Surrey, Abbotsford, Vancouver, Richmond and Coquitlam. There is no such offence as “home invasion”, but where there is a violent break-in and commission of offences against occupants (like assault, aggravated assault, robbery, unlawful confinement, firearms threats and sexual assault), the Crown will characterize it at a “home invasion” and ask the Court to consider the situation to be aggravated. The truth is, however, that as serious as all of that may be, every case is different, and an experienced home invasion criminal defence lawyer will be able to show the Court that there is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” approach to these sorts of cases.
Mischief is most commonly thought of as “vandalism”, and can apply to all sorts of damage to private property, from minor damage and “tagging” to the total destruction of valuable property. The offence also applies to the misuse of “theoretical” property, like computer systems and data. As in all offences, the more serious the damage and loss, the higher the stakes. But one common theme is this: no matter how minor, the offence of mischief always carries with it the potential stigma of a criminal record, which an accused person is best advised to fight.
** Please be advised that these definitions and information are not comprehensive legal definitions. They are designed to provide a brief and basic description of some of the most common criminal charges. As with all criminal charges, available defences will vary depending on the individual circumstances of each case. As such, the content of this website is not legal advice. Do not use or otherwise rely on any of the following content without first seeking proper legal advice.**