March 27, 2023

With rising food costs showing no signs of abating, some consumers are considering illegal solutions to put bread on the table. Shoplifting becomes a more attractive option in a time of labor shortages, although it is not without risks. Two people testify about what motivates them to steal from the grocery store.

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Editor’s note: 24 hours does not in any way encourage shoplifting, which is an offense under the Canadian Criminal Code. We wanted to show that the current economic context can push certain individuals to transgress the law for various reasons and we consider that this is a phenomenon of public interest.

Steal out of necessity

Marlène* started stealing when she was a student and was earning a small salary. “There is a pure and hard reason for my thefts, and it is the lack of money. In times when I am more comfortable financially, I stop,” she explains.

She remembers committing her first robbery to impress on a date: “I put a duck breast in my coat pocket. I never admitted it to my date. I didn’t brag about stealing because I know it’s wrong.”

Shoplifting is considered larceny by law. A charge of shoplifting can lead to a criminal record, a fine of up to $5,000 and even imprisonment, depending on the value of the items stolen or the aggravating circumstances surrounding the offence.

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After quitting for a while, Marlene started shoplifting again. “I work 40 hours a week, but once my rent and utilities are paid, I have less than $80 left to survive half the month. I appeal to other alternatives, such as the dumpster diving or food banks, but if I go to the grocery store, I steal things that wouldn’t fit in my budget,” she says.

While discussing with those around her, she realized that many of those close to her were considering shoplifting for more political reasons. “For me, the political motivation came later. Now, when I see big chains setting up in underprivileged neighborhoods to make profits on the backs of their employees, I tell myself that a stolen $10 package of meat is ridiculous,” says Marlène .

A form of revenge

For Sandrine, shoplifting doesn’t make a big difference at the end of the month. She flies exclusively to the grocery store near her home, which she describes as offering “ultra-high prices and average service.”

“It’s a form of revenge,” she explains. “The big banners are filling their pockets while the prices are inflated!”

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She started by stealing tomatoes that they put in her bag without paying. Since the cost of food has increased, she now steals other food that she finds too expensive.

“It makes me angry that shareholders get rich in this context. They should tighten their belts like the rest of the population. Food is a necessary good. I’m not advocating shoplifting, but it’s annoying to see grocery stores complain when you know how much they throw away food,” she said.

According to research from Dalhousie University, the three largest grocers in Canada (Loblaws, Metro, Empire) have than the average for the last five years. Of the $31 billion in food wasted each year in Canada,

A phenomenon hard to quantify

If we notice since 2022 that shoplifting is more numerous, the practice is not easy to quantify. This is an under-reported crime: Sometimes the shopkeeper asks a thief caught in the act to return the merchandise before banishing him from the grocery store, without calling the police.

The lack of supervision, due to the low number of employees present on the floor in the context of a labor shortage, makes shoplifting easier. Wearing a mask makes it less obvious to identify suspects in the images captured by surveillance cameras, according to Gary Sands of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.

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Losses caused by theft can reach for some Canadian grocery stores. They could be invoked as a reason to raise prices further, a question of making up for lost goods, according to Sylvain Charlebois, economist and agri-food analyst, cited in an article by Canadian Grocer.

The latter openly criticized the use of shoplifting on his Twitter account, causing strong reactions from many Internet users. Many of them replied: “If you see someone stealing food, you haven’t seen anything.”

*The first names of those who testify have been changed to protect their anonymity.


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