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Can I go to jail for buying stolen property?

A thief stealing a TV. Stock photo by Getty Images

That great deal you found on online or at a flea market might end up costing far more than you ever anticipated. If it’s stolen property, you could face jail time.

Section 354 of the Criminal Code forbids possessing any property or thing obtained by crime. You don’t have to have stolen it yourself.

Of course, you can’t go to jail just for possessing it, since you can’t necessarily know whether something is stolen. The offence is knowingly buying stolen goods, or willfully ignoring obvious warning signs.

For example, there’s the 2013 case of an Ontario firefighter who was eventually convicted of buying a stolen boat.

Ben Williams was convicted because he was wilfully blind to the fact the boat was likely stolen. He knew that he’d paid far less than the boat was worth, didn’t insure or register it, or obtain transfer papers. He paid cash and didn’t get any sort of receipt.

Additionally, he didn’t ask the seller any questions about the vessel like: “Have you had any problems with it?” You’d probably ask that if you’re paying almost $9,500 for a used motor vehicle.

Depending on the value of the stolen goods, you can face serious jail time. When those goods are worth more than $5,000, a conviction can bring up to 10 years in jail.

You can protect yourself by carrying out some due diligence. That probably doesn’t apply for buying a book or some knick-knack at a garage sale, but for big purchases, be sure to ask questions and ascertain if the item and the transaction are on the level.

Read more:

Criminal Code s. 354

R. v. Williams