Overview

It is important to know the law and understand sexual consent.

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.

What is 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
  • can never be obtained through threats or coercion
  • can be withdrawn at any time
  • should never be assumed or implied
  • is not silence or the absence of ‘no’
  • cannot be given if a person is impaired by alcohol or drugs, or unconscious
  • cannot be given if the perpetrator abuses a position of trust, power or authority
  • cannot be given 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

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:

  • avoiding eye contact
  • crying
  • pushing away
  • shaking head ‘no’
  • silence
  • not being responsive
  • walking away

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

Who cannot give consent

People who cannot consent to sexual activity include:

  • children and youth under 16 (some exceptions for consensual sex with peers close in age)
  • youth 16 to 17 when engaged in sexual activities with adults in positions of trust or authority (also known as sexual exploitation)
  • incapacitated individuals (for example, unconscious or severely intoxicated)
  • cognitive decline (for example, dementia)

It is important to know the law and understand sexual consent. To find out more, see:

Publication of intimate images

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/video of you and are sharing it with others online or by phone
  • are worried that someone may share a picture/video of you

To find out more, see Non-Consensual Distribution of an Intimate Image (PDF, 374 KB).

New law

Canada now has a law to help deal with the non-consensual distribution of an intimate image:

Protecting Victims of Non-consensual Distribution of Intimate Images Act