Theft and Fraud

Theft and fraud are closely related offences whose essential characteristic is acquiring property or value dishonestly but without recourse to violence. These are two of the most common crimes and there is an extensive body of legislation and case law, dating back to the origins of the criminal law, which has developed their conceptual framework.

Theft is defined essentially as the unlawful taking of another’s property or the conversion of someone else’s property to one’s own use. In modern times the concept has been extended to apply to unlawful appropriation of intangible property in addition to physical objects. Thus, the Criminal Code contains provisions dealing with theft of electronic data, telecommunication services and intellectual property in addition to dealing with theft of traditional forms of property. When the unlawful taking is accompanied by violence, threat of violence or use of a weapon the more serious offences of extortion or robbery are committed.

When a residence is entered to commit theft the offence historically was termed burglary whereas the modern Criminal Code defines the offences of breaking and entering with intent to commit an offence and provides for a greater maximum sentence when the place entered is a dwelling. Possession of property knowing it was obtained by the commission of a criminal offence is a related infraction, historically known as receiving, whose elements have recently been developed and adapted to deal with profits generated by criminal organizations, particularly from the illegal drug trade. The Criminal Code now provides extensive powers of seizure and forfeiture of property obtained through crime under the heading “Proceeds of Crime”

Fraud is defined in very broad terms, essentially as deprivation of another by dishonest means. The Supreme Court has interpreted the term ‘deprivation’ to include not only actual loss but also the risk of loss. Thus, for example, submitting an inflated property valuation to a bank in order to secure a higher mortgage loan constitutes a fraud even if the entire loan is repaid with no resulting loss.