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Shoplifting surge: Numbers increase in Maritimes as economy sours

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They're likely on the low side, but new shoplifting numbers from Statistics Canada show significant increases in the Maritimes.

Experts say it probably 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 was the case even before the pandemic.

Shoplifting numbers dropped during the lockdowns, he says, but have been steadily creeping up since -- especially with inflation on the rise.

It's costly and sometimes dangerous.

"This is not a victimless crime," said Cormier.

"These are situations where you're putting retail staff in harm's way, where they can't just simply stand by and watch somebody walk out the door with sometimes thousands of dollars worth of product."

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

The move was not surprising 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 amount of theft is on the increase," said Sue Uteck.

It's all reflected in the latest available crime numbers from Stats Canada.

Expressed as a rate per 100-thousand residents, the national shoplifting average was 248 -- up about 3 per cent over 2020.

The percentage was ten times that in the city of Saint John, N.B., although the overall rate was lower at 189.

At 453 per 100-thousand, shoplifting was more of an issue in Moncton, N.B., and up 36 per cent year over year.

The Halifax rate was almost 400 in 2021, but the percentage change was logged at an astonishing 1,484 per cent, but it turns out that has more to do with the meaning of words, than the actual crime.

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

"So, before, a retail theft was part of this [category] of theft under $5,000, but now they're calling everything under $5,000 Shoplifting," said Boudreau.

There's no word why the change was made.

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

"Like many regions across the country, we have seen an increase in retail theft and break and enters particularly since 2020, including in Halifax," said HRP public information officer Const. John MacLeod.

"We do not know all the reasons driving this increase -- but we are aware and working closely with community partners to work on solutions.“

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

"Does that mean we have a serious crime problem on our hands? I would argue not necessarily, but from a retail merchant's perspective, if they are losing money because of thefts, then they're going to see that -- rightly so -- as a very serious issue."

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