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Cops and Robbers and the Criminal Code of Canada

Robbery, theft, and burglary, is there a difference? Believe it or not, they are three distinct crimes. The law actually distinguishes the three because of a few key differences between them. Upon first thought, they seem to mean the exact same thing. So, how is the crime of robbery different from the others?

Take a look at these three scenarios:

1. An employee steals money from the cash register of their employer.
2. A person walks up to a stranger and threatens to mug them if they don’t hand over their wallet.
3. A person sneaks into an empty home and takes jewellery and valuables.

At first glance, it seems the same crime has been committed in all three cases. However, the first case involves theft, the second involves robbery, and the third involves burglary which is now dealt with under breaking and entering laws.

For now, let’s focus on robbery.

What is robbery?

The crime of robbery is defined in section 343 of the Canadian Criminal Code. It states that:

Every one commits robbery who:

(a) steals, and for the purpose of extorting whatever is stolen or to prevent or overcome resistance to the stealing, uses violence or threats of violence to a person or property;

(b) steals from any person and, at the time he steals or immediately before or immediately thereafter, wounds, beats, strikes or uses any personal violence to that person;

(c) assaults any person with intent to steal from him; or

(d) steals from any person while armed with an offensive weapon or imitation thereof.

Robbers use intimidation, threat force or coercion to obtain goods from the owner. An example of this is mugging.

Basically, robbery occurs when the use of force, threat of force or coercion is used to steal property from a victim.

How is robbery different from theft and burglary?

While robbery, burglary, and theft seem similar, they actually have a few distinct characteristics. The most important being the use of violence. In order for it to be robbery, the use of force, threat of force, or coercion must have taken place. Purse-snatching is a good example of robbery. The jostling of the person is the ‘violence’ and the taking of the purse is the theft. While the theft and burglary both involve property theft, one main difference is the presence of a victim. A victim is always present during the commission of a robbery; however, they are not always present during a theft or burglary.


According to Statistics Canada there are over 20,000 incidents of robbery per year. The use of violence makes robbery a very serious crime. It is an indictable offence with penalties of up to life imprisonment. There is a mandatory minimum sentence of four years for a first offence involving a firearm and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Prior convictions as well as other fact-specific factors may also affect the length of sentence.

Can I be charged with robbery and found guilty of a different offence?

Because robbery requires both theft and the use of force, failure to prove one of these elements, a person may be found guilty of a lesser offence such as the individual offences of ‘theft’ or ‘assault.’ It is important to contact a criminal lawyer to find out whether there are any fact-specific defences available to you.

Need help?

If you have been charged with robbery, do not hesitate to call the lawyers at Aitken Robertson to help you fight your charge. Cases are fact specific, and our lawyers are equipped to assist you in mounting a thorough defence in your favour. Find out how we can help you and book a free 30-minute consultation with a lawyer toll-free at 1-800-668-1657.

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