Overview

It is important to know the law and understand sexual consent. Over 55% of people in Canada do not fully understand consent when it comes to sexual activity.

Consent is defined in Canada’s Criminal Code as the “voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.”

Legal facts about consent

  • The legal age of consent is 16 in Canada.
  • Silence or passivity does not equal consent.
  • Consenting partners must be capable of revoking consent at any time.
  • Consent cannot be given in advance.
  • There is no implied consent in Canadian law.

Consent

Consent means giving permission for something to happen or entering into agreement to do something. The person initiating sexual activity needs to take reasonable steps to establish consent and seek it actively during sexual activity.

Consent:

  • is a process, not an event
  • is an ongoing conversation
  • is mutual and voluntary
  • can never be obtained through threats or coercion
  • is specific – agreement to one form of sexual activity does not imply agreement to other form or circumstances
  • can be withdrawn at any time
  • should never be assumed or implied even in close romantic relationships

Consent cannot be given:

  • if a person is impaired by alcohol or drugs, sleeping or unconscious
  • if a person is in a state of cognitive decline (for example, dementia)
  • if the perpetrator abuses a position of trust, power or authority
  • by anyone other than the person participating in the sexual activity
    • For example, your parent, brother or sister, girlfriend or boyfriend, spouse or friend cannot consent for you or on your behalf.

Remember, the absence of ‘NO’ does not mean ‘YES’

Withdrawing consent

You have the right to withdraw consent at any time during sexual activity.

Even if you have consented to start a sexual act with someone, you have the right to stop it at any time.

Consenting to one kind of sexual activity does not automatically mean consenting to another.

Be conscious of nonverbal signs of refusal, such as:

  • avoiding eye contact
  • crying
  • pushing away
  • trying to keep clothing on
  • shaking head ‘no’, or silence
  • not being responsive
  • walking away

If you are unsure, stop and ask yourself this question: "Is this okay?"

Age of consent

The age of consent in Canada is 16 years old. However, there are some close-in-age considerations –

  • People under the age of 12 cannot consent to sexual activity.
  • People aged 12 and 13 may consent to sexual activity with someone who is less than 2 years older than them.
  • People aged 14 and 15 may consent to sexual activity with someone who is less than 5 years older than them.
  • People under 18 years old cannot consent to any sexual activity that is exploitative in nature, such as:
    • pornography or prostitution
    • with someone whom they are dependent on, such as a caregiver or parent
    • with someone who in a position of power, trust or authority over them, such as a coach, or doctor.

Find out more about:

Non-consensual image distribution

It is an offence for someone to knowingly post, distribute, sell or make available an intimate image, film, or recording of another person without that person’s consent.

An intimate image is a picture or video of a child or an adult who is in one of these states:

  • nude
  • partially nude
  • engaged in sexual activity

Even if the person consented to the pictures or videos, it is an offence to distribute them if they had a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time they were taken.

Regaining control

There are steps you can take to regain control over situations where you:

  • have shared an intimate, sexual picture or video with someone
  • know that someone has a picture or video of you and are sharing it with others online or by phone
  • are worried that someone may share a picture or video of you

To find out more, see Non-Consensual Distribution of an Intimate Image.

Online sexual violence

Unsolicited and unwanted sexual actions and behaviours directed towards youth online, are increasing in frequency and intensity. Learn how to keep children safe online and reduce child victimization.

Learn more about online sexual violence.

NeedHelpNow.ca helps teens stop the spread of sexual pictures or videos and provides support along the way.

Parents – How to talk to teens about online sexual violence

Youth – What you need to know about online sexual violence