“He wasn’t our usual clientele,” Ça Va De Soi sales associate Laly Delaoune said. “But I don’t judge people by appearance, so I’m going to give the same service to everybody.” 

“He was actually polite, and he was apparently looking for a gift for his mother,” she said. 

Delaoune offered suggestions to her customer for a suitable present. Within seconds, he headed to the men’s section, grabbed a pile of men’s polo shirts valued at $250 a piece and ran out of the store.  

“I called 911 because I was freaking out,” she said. “That was my first experience, and it was not the best, but the head office handled it pretty well.”  

Delauone’s experience isn’t unique. 

Instances of theft are increasing in Ottawa, according to a Capital Current analysis of Ottawa Police crime data.

Theft under $5,000 made up over half the reported crimes from 2018 to 2023. There were 83,319 crimes reported over the six-year period. 

The Criminal Code says that “A person commits theft when, with intent to steal anything, he moves it or causes it to move or to be moved, or begins to cause it to become movable.” 

Those caught for the theft of items under $5,000 could be charged with a felony

Shoplifting is one of the most common forms of such thefts, which makes up 37 per cent of all online reports to the Ottawa Police Service. The category also includes stolen packages, stealing from employers and gasoline theft.

In the height of the pandemic in 2020 theft under $5,000 cratered during 2020, with only 9,385 reports. But as the health threat eased, the thieves have returned.

In 2023, there were 17,918 reports of theft under $5,000, a 20.3 per cent increase over 2022, which had 14,897 reports. 

Most reports in the six years ending in 2023 have been in Rideau-Vanier Ward, which includes the ByWard Market and the Rideau Centre, with 17,105 reports.

From 2018 to 2023, the area surrounding the CF Rideau Centre saw the highest number of reported thefts. However, since 2020, the intersection of Nelson and Rideau has become the hotspot for theft. 

This intersection features convenience stores, fast food restaurants and a Shoppers’ Drug Mart. It’s also a short walk from multiple dollar stores and an LCBO. 

Liquor stores, in particular, have been affected by shoplifting. A police report shows Ottawa LCBO locations reported more than 1,500 incidents of shoplifting in just the last quarter of 2023. This was a more than 100 per cent increase over the previous year.

Small businesses have also been hurt. 

Ça Va De Soi is at 519 Sussex Dr., near the Rideau Centre.

The busiest months for reported theft under $5,000 are between June and August, averaging 8,000 reported thefts each month. Ça Va De Soi hasn’t escaped.  

During her time at the boutique, Delaoune says that she can recall two or three thefts as they happen sparsely. For each incident, the police were prompt to respond, she said.  

Irvin Waller, a criminology professor at uOttawa, says rates are high in Rideau-Vanier because of a concentration of unhoused people near local shelters and problems with drug use.  

“One of the ways that you get your money for drugs is break-ins,” Waller said.   

A convenience store and other small businesses in Rideau-Vanier Ward are bearing the brunt of a deluge of shoplifting, as documented by Ottawa Police crime reports over six years from 2018 to 2023. [Photo @ Ryan Clark]

Waller said he expects that thefts under $5,000 will continue in areas like Rideau and Vanier until the city reduces homelessness.

Chris Greenshields, president of the Vanier Community Association, said although his organization has an active safety committee, they are concerned about homelessness in the area. 

He said the association is asking the city for more housing, instead of shelters. 

“I think giving people a home is key, to not only homelessness per se, but in terms of dealing with the cause that we’re seeing in possible criminal activity because of addictions and mental health issues.”

Eugene Oscapella, another University of Ottawa criminology professor, echoed Waller's analysis.  

“More acute poverty caused in part by people’s inability to pay their living expenses – perhaps hugely increased rent costs and food inflation are making some desperate,” Oscapella said in an email statement to Capital Current.  

Waller suggested that worried business owners and residents continue to pressure city councillors and officials for more community safety planning. Adding some situational crime prevention measures, such as private security, might help, he added.  

Councillors in the wards with the highest number of reported thefts were unavailable for comment at the time of publication. 

In terms of store safety, Ça Va De Soi boutique is equipped with an alarm system connected to the doors and is working on obtaining security cameras as an added layer of protection.

While the numbers of thefts are relatively low for their boutique, the impact remains great.  

“It’s a family-owned business, we know how much love has been put into this.” Delaoune said. “We know the person that designs the items and [when] you know that person works really hard, it’s disappointing.”