Contrary to widespread belief, you don’t need to pick a lock or break a window to be accused of “breaking and entering”. Simply entering a place without permission with the intention to commit a crime can be considered breaking and entering.
What is breaking and entering?
It is forbidden to enter a place without permission with the intention to commit a crime. This is true even if the intended crime is not actually carried out. For example, a person enters a grocery store during the night intending to steal something. Even if they do not manage to steal anything, they can be charged with breaking and entering.
If the person does commit the intended crime, they could be charged with two crimes: breaking and entering and the other crime they committed. For example, a person who enters their ex-spouse’s home without permission and assaults them can be charged with both breaking and entering and assault.
The term “place” not only includes a home but also a business, a vacant building, an enclosed area, a garage, etc. For example, a person who steals tools from a van could be charged both with breaking and entering and theft.
Nothing has to be “broken” for it to be a crime
The term “breaking” has a very broad meaning. Breaking a window or lock to enter a place are clear examples of breaking, but so is opening an unlocked door. The simple act of entering a place without permission can be considered breaking and entering, even if nothing was actually broken to get in.
A person is considered to have entered a place once any part of their body (for example, their hand) or any tool they are using (for example, something used to pick a lock) is inside the place. In other words, it’s not necessary for someone to completely enter a place to be charged with breaking and entering.
Home invasion: an aggravating factor
The term “home invasion” is often used to describe a situation where someone enters a home while the occupants are there. This is not a separate crime in Canadian law. However, when a judge decides on a sentence, they must consider all the circumstances surrounding the crime. An offender who broke into a home while people were there, and used violence or threatened to use it, may receive a more severe sentence than someone who broke into an empty house.