What Is the Difference Between Robbery and Theft Criminal Offences?

PUBLISHED ON July 25, 2020

Robbery and Theft Criminal Offences

When we talk about the taking of another’s property or money, two criminal offences that come to mind for most people are robbery and theft. While these crimes have some similarities, they are actually two different types of criminal offences with key differences.

Robbery is the crime of depriving another of their property by stealing it from them – a theft with the added component of violence. The person who is accused of the crime will have taken the property forcibly in some manner. They might have assaulted the person. They could have pretended to have a weapon to scare the person to give up their property. They may even have used a weapon to commit the offence.

The key distinction of the offence of robbery is the use of force, either implied or physical, against the victim to steal their property. Robbery offences often include acts like robbing convenience and retail stores, muggings, bank robberies, and so on, where there is at least one person present aside from the robber or robbers.

Theft, on the other hand, is knowingly taking the property of another without their consent or their knowledge. For instance, you remove something from a store (shoplifting), and put it into your pocket and walk out of the store.  Another type of theft is called a conversion. This is where you take the property of another and intend to convert its ownership. You might decide to keep the property as your own or you could decide to sell it for cash.

For example, you ask your neighbour to borrow their bike so you can go grocery shopping. When you return home it is raining, so you just store the bike inside your home. A few days go by and your neighbour has not asked about their bike, so you decide to keep it. Months go by and eventually your neighbour asks for their bike back. If you refuse to return it, you have committed theft.  Alternatively, after keeping the bike a few weeks, you decide to sell it for cash and use the cash for your personal gain.  This is theft. As is evident, with theft, you do not use force to steal property from others.

Please keep in mind these are just generalized examples for the two criminal offences to illustrate their differences. There are variations to the offences and similarities with other offences, like breaking and entering, using various tools to commit robbery or theft, and so on.

Additionally, the monetary value of the property stolen, whether anyone was injured, harmed, or killed, and other such factors are used to determine the actual criminal charges one is accused of committing.

The foregoing is not intended as legal advice and should not be acted upon as such.  If you are arrested and charged with robbery or theft in Toronto or the GTA, you need to obtain legal advice immediately. Please feel free to contact Toronto criminal defence lawyer, Brian Ross at (416) 658-5855 to schedule a consultation today!


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Brian Ross is a founding partner at Canada’s largest criminal Law firm, Rusonik, O’Connor, Robbins, Ross & Angelini, LLP. Prior to founding this firm, Brian was a partner at Pinkofskys, a leading law firm famous for its vigorous defence of its clients.

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