Few people know how fantastic our consent laws are in Canada. While many people believe consent is permission or even just the absence of no, consent is far more involved than that. According to the Criminal Code of Canada, consent is more than just permission, and it’s certainly more than just the absence of no – it is a VOLUNTARY agreement to engage in sexual activity. This means consent obtained under coercive circumstances is not consent at all. If someone has been harmed, threatened, guilted, pressured, or taken advantage of while in a state of impaired consciousness, it does not matter if they technically said yes or went along with the sexual activity. Coerced consent is NOT consent.It is important to talk about coercion whenever we talk about sexual violence for a couple of reasons. Even though our cultural stereotype around sexual assault is that it must involve physical force, it is far more common for coercion to be the tool used by perpetrators who commit sexual assault. It is especially common for coercion to be used within relationships.
Thank you to the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre for sharing their handouts and pamphlets with us, and allowing us to link to those handouts on this website. For additional information about sexual assault or any of the related topics, please contact any of the centres listed on our ‘Get Help‘ page and/or email us.
Defining Sexual Assault & Consent
Acquaintance Sexual Assault
Alcohol & Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault
Male Survivors of Sexual Assault
Flashbacks & Grounding Techniques
Rape Trauma Syndrome
Options for Survivors
Choosing a Counselor
Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
Common Reactions after Sexual Assault
Bill of Sexual Rights during COVID-19
Impact on Supporters
Canadian Consent Law
In addition to consent needing to be absolutely voluntary, the Criminal Code of Canada also lays out 5 other specific circumstances where a person cannot, or has not consented:
- Consent has not been given if that consent was given by someone else.
There is no exception to this. We can only consent for ourselves.
- Consent has not been given when there has been an abuse of power trust or authority.
This means individuals in positions of power cannot abuse their power to gain sexual or romantic access to someone. For example, employers cannot abuse their power by offering promotions in exchange for a sexual relationship.
- Consent has not been given when someone has said or implied no through words or actions.
Canada has an affirmative consent standard. This means that as a person living in Canada, it is not your responsibility to say “no” or fend off the sexual advances of others. Instead, it is the legal responsibility of the person pursuing sexual contact to make sure they have voluntary consent from their partner(s).People can communicate non-consent in many different ways. They can make excuses (“I have a headache”), remain silent, change the subject, or express any degree of hesitation or uncertainty. Non-consent can also be communicated through body language, such as turning away, crossing arms or legs, crying, not participating, dropping eye contact, nervous fidgeting, and freezing up. While most people are familiar with the slogan “no means no”, what better captures consent in Canada is “Only yes means yes”.
- Consent has not been given if someone is incapable of consenting.
Examples of circumstances under which a person is seen as incapable of consenting include (but are not limited to):
– When a person is incapacitated by drugs of alcohol
– When a person is unconscious
– When a person is under the age of consent
- Consent has not been given when someone withdraws their consent or changes their mind.
People are allowed to change their mind at any time, including during sexual activity. If someone wants to stop for any reason, they have the right to withdraw their consent and the moment consent is withdrawn, that sexual contact must stop. If it does not stop, then from that moment onward it would be a sexual assault.
In summary, consent in Canada is voluntary, mutual, act specific, person specific, ongoing, participatory, sober, conscious and enthusiastic!