The Rights Of Store Owners In Cases Of Suspected Shoplifting

Store owners should have reasonable and probable grounds before they accuse anybody of doing anything, whether it’s stealing a chocolate bar or stealing something much more significant.

What rights do store owners have?

The store owners or private security people can make a Citizen’s Arrest. They have no greater or lesser authority than a private individual or a Peace Officer, which is what the Criminal Code defines as police officers. They cannot breach the individual’s rights because technically when they are investigating a crime they are doing so as an Agent of the State and ultimately will be judged in that regard.

Can the store owner search someone suspected of shoplifting?

The store owner or an employee of the store owner must abide by the law when investigating a criminal offense. That means that an individual is protected by the Charter of Rights and is not vulnerable or susceptible to unreasonable search or seizure. The individual who is going to search them must have reasonable and probable grounds that shoplifting has taken place. It’s probably safest for the store owner and his or her staff or private security personnel to detain an individual whom they believe has committed an offence and contact the police to follow up and complete their investigation.

Who lays the charge: police or store owner?

In Canada, shoplifting is considered an offense against the State. In other words, it’s not a private individual or a private law issue. It’s up to the police or the Crown Attorney to lay charges. If the police are called, they will take the complaint, they will do their own investigation and they can lay a charge, or they can divert the charges.


If you, or someone you care about, is dealing with criminal law issues in the Ottawa, Ontario Region, contact Engel and Associates for a consultation.

This article is taken from a October 5, 2007 interview with Bruce Engel, Criminal Lawyer with Engel and Associates, an Ottawa, Ontario Criminal Law Firm. Note that laws vary from province to province. Please consult with a lawyer in your own area to be sure of the laws and specific issues in your own jurisdiction.