The Retail Council of Canada wants to put a stop to widespread theft within the retail industry.

“Retail crime contributed about $5 billion in losses across Canada,” Retail Council of Canada Loss Prevention and Risk Manager Rui Rodrigues said in an interview with CTV National News. Rodrigues said those numbers are from pre-pandemic, and likely higher now.

Retail industry leaders are meeting this week to find solutions to minimize theft.

“Theft amounts to roughly 1.8 per cent of all retail revenues in the country.”

Stealing from retail stores in Canada has gone on for a long time, in a variety of ways, but Rodrigues said the problem is worse now than it has ever been.

“General shoplifting happens quite often and group theft is a growing problem,” he said, as he described the practice of large numbers of thieves blitzing stores and leaving with large amounts of stolen merchandise. “They are literally filling shopping carts and bags full of merchandise.”

Rodrigues said organized crime is a growing concern, with items stolen before they even get to stores.

“Trailers stolen from yards, in transport, there is definitely an increase of that as well,” he said.

Sylvain Charlebois agrees. Charlebois is a professor at Dalhousie University and director of the university's Agri-Food Analytics Lab. He said theft of retail food has also escalated over the past five years.

“Organized crime is a big problem,” Charlebois said. “Sometimes you have internal employees involved and these thefts will probably include thousands of dollars of food product.”

The retail stores sector is currently working with law enforcement to address the issue, according to Rodrigues.

Store operators are also deploying new strategies such as increased and better-trained security personnel and high-tech surveillance tools.

“It could come down to the physical design of the store and where the high value stuff is, in relation to the exit,” said CTV News Public Safety Analyst and Former OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis.

“Most of the stores want it up front, so people see it when they come in. That is part of their advertising. But in other cases, they are moving items and putting them into places that makes it harder to get them out of the door.”

Lewis said there are other proven ways to deter thieves, like catching them in the act and delivering strict punishment through law enforcement and the courts.

The Retail Council of Canada is currently working on a retail crime report that will highlight how much money retailers are now losing due to theft.