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New Brunswick

Shoplifting numbers on the rise in the Maritimes

They’re probably on the low side, but new shoplifting figures from Statistics Canada show a significant increase in the Maritimes.

Experts say it likely has a lot to do with inflation and the struggling economy, but retailers are the ones paying the price.

“It’s a growing problem — billions of dollars a year,” said Jim Cormier, Atlantic director of the Retail Council of Canada, noting that this was already the case before the pandemic.

Shoplifting rates fell during the lockdown, he says, but has risen steadily since – particularly amid rising inflation.

It’s expensive and sometimes dangerous.

“This is not a victimless crime,” Cormier said.

“These are situations where you put retail staff at risk where they can’t just stand by and watch someone walk out the door with sometimes thousands of dollars worth of product.”

On Monday, CTV News reported how half a dozen stores on or near Spring Garden Road have begun restricting customer access.

The move came as no surprise to the executive director of the Spring Garden Area Business Association.

“I think it’s just that we’re in lean times here in the Maritimes and people are desperate and the rate of theft is increasing,” Sue Uteck said.

All of this is reflected in the latest available crime figures from Stats Canada.

Expressed as a rate per 100,000 people, the nationwide average for shoplifting was 248 — an increase of about 3 percent from 2020.

The percentage was 10 times that of the city of Saint John, NB, although the overall rate was lower at 189.

At 453 per 100,000, shoplifting was a bigger problem in Moncton, NB, up 36 percent year-on-year.

The Halifax rate was nearly 400 in 2021, but the percent change has been logged at a staggering 1,484 percent, but it turns out that has more to do with the meaning of words than actual crime.

“They changed the definition of what shoplifting is,” said Michael Boudreau, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at St. Thomas University in Fredericton.

“So it used to be a retail theft [category] of thefts under $5,000, but now they call anything under $5,000 shoplifting,” Boudreau said.

There is no word as to why the change was made.

In a statement to CTV News on Monday, Halifax Regional Police (HRP) acknowledged the numbers were rising.

“As in many regions across the country, we’ve seen an increase in retail thefts and burglaries, particularly since 2020, including in Halifax,” said HRP Public Information Officer Const. John MacLeod.

“We don’t know all the reasons for this increase – but we do recognize it and are working closely with community partners to work on solutions.”

All of this, according to Boudreau, leads to a pointed question.

“Does that mean we have a serious crime problem? I’d argue not necessarily, but from a retailer’s perspective, if they’re losing money due to theft, they’re going to see it – rightly – as a very serious problem.”

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