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  • Writer's pictureElizabete Costa

Why Consent Matters: Navigating Canada's Sexual Consent Laws

Sexual consent is fundamental to respectful and legal sexual interactions, defined as the clear and enthusiastic agreement between individuals to engage in sexual activity. However, understanding consent can be complex, particularly in legal cases involving allegations of sexual assault. In this article, we delve into the intricacies of sexual consent, what it entails, and what it emphatically does not.

What Sexual Consent IS:

At its core, sexual consent is a mutual, voluntary agreement between all parties involved to engage in sexual activity. It is an ongoing process that must be actively communicated and confirmed throughout any sexual encounter. Consent cannot be assumed or implied; it must be explicitly given, free from coercion, intimidation, or manipulation.

Consent is the explicit agreement or permission, conveyed through voluntary words or actions, understood by all parties involved, to engage in a particular sexual activity at a specific time.

● Consent is revocable at any point, provided it's communicated clearly.

● It cannot be obtained through coercion, force, threat, deception, or intimidation.

● Individuals incapacitated due to any reason cannot give consent.

● Silence, absence of "no" or "stop," past or present relationships, or prior sexual encounters do not imply consent."

What Sexual Consent is NOT:

Although the definition of sexual consent is clear, misunderstandings about sexual consent are common. It's vital to dispel these misconceptions to promote a culture of respect and responsibility.

Here's what you need to know:

1. Consent is NOT Present When Someone is Sleeping: A person who is asleep cannot provide consent. Sexual activity initiated with a sleeping individual is unequivocally non-consensual and may constitute sexual assault.

2. Consent is NOT Present When Someone is Intoxicated: Intoxication impairs judgment an decision-making abilities, rendering an individual incapable of providing valid consent. Engaging in sexual activity with an intoxicated person, even if they appear to be responsive, is tantamount to sexual assault.

3. Consent is NOT Present When Someone is Incapacitated in Any Way: Consent cannot be given if an individual is incapacitated due to Drugs, Alcohol or Other circumstances that render them unable to make informed decisions or communicate their wishes effectively.

4. Consent is NOT Present When Someone is Coerced or Manipulated: Consent obtained through coercion, manipulation, or exploitation of power dynamics is invalid. This includes situations where one party exerts pressure, threats, or emotional manipulation to compel the other into sexual activity against their will.

5. Consent is NOT Present When Someone is Unable to Communicate Refusal: If an

individual is unable to communicate their refusal explicitly, whether due to physical

impairment, language barriers, or other factors, their silence or inability to say "no" does

not equate to consent. It is essential to ensure that consent is actively and clearly

communicated by all parties involved.

Legal Perspective: Sexual Consent in Canada:

Canada maintains a robust legal framework to address sexual assault, with a broad definition encompassing a range of unwanted sexual activities. According to Canada's Criminal Code (s. 273.1(1)), sexual activity is lawful only when all parties involved provide voluntary agreement. This consent must be affirmatively communicated, either verbally or through conduct, throughout the entirety of the sexual encounter.

The Criminal Code further stipulates instances where consent is invalidated, including:

Expressed Non-Consent: When an individual communicates their refusal to engage in sexual activity through words or actions.

Withdrawal of Consent: If consent is given but subsequently revoked during the sexual encounter, continuing without consent constitutes sexual assault.

● Incapacity to Consent: Individuals who are unconscious, asleep, or otherwise incapacitated are incapable of providing consent. Engaging in sexual activity with such individuals is a criminal offense.

Abuse of Power or Authority: Consent obtained through abuse of a position of trust, power, or authority is invalid. This includes situations where one party exploits

a power dynamic to coerce or manipulate the other into sexual activity.

Consent on Behalf of Another: Consent cannot be provided on behalf of another individual. Each person involved must independently and actively consent to the sexual


Inclusivity in Sexual Consent: Supporting LGBT+ Equality:

It's crucial to ensure that discussions on sexual consent are inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities. While consent principles remain consistent, unique challenges faced by LGBT+ individuals require attention.

1. Respecting Identity and Pronouns: When engaging

sexually, respecting individuals' gender identities and

pronouns is crucial to effective communication and consent.

2. Understanding Diverse Relationships: Acknowledging

and respecting the dynamics of LGBT+ relationships,

including same-sex, non-binary, and polyamorous

partnerships, ensures informed and enthusiastic consent from all parties.

3. Navigating Legal Protections: LGBT+ individuals may encounter additional legal challenges due to discrimination. Understanding legal rights and seeking support from LGBT+-friendly resources are vital.

4. Addressing Unique Vulnerabilities: LGBT+ individuals, especially youth and transgender individuals, may face increased vulnerability to coercion and abuse. Creating safe spaces, comprehensive sex education, and tailored support services are essential.

5. Intersectionality and Consent: Recognizing and addressing intersecting identities

(e.g., race, ethnicity, disability) is crucial for promoting equitable and respectful sexual


What the legal jargon means: Legal terms such as "voluntary agreement" and "affirmative

consent" may seem complex, but they essentially refer to the active, ongoing communication of consent throughout a sexual encounter. It's essential to understand these terms to ensure compliance with Canadian law and to respect the autonomy and dignity of all individuals.

Understanding Your Responsibilities: Individuals and organizations have legal obligations to

uphold consent in all sexual interactions. Failure to do so can result in serious legal

consequences, including criminal charges, civil liability, and reputational damage.

Guidance for Legal Compliance: To ensure compliance with Canadian laws regarding sexual consent, it's crucial for individuals, businesses, and institutions to implement clear policies, training programs, and reporting procedures. These measures help prevent sexual misconduct and provide support to survivors.

In conclusion, grasping the concept of sexual consent is essential for managing both personal relationships and legal affairs. It's the responsibility of every individual to prioritize transparent communication, honor boundaries, and acknowledge the autonomy of others. Upholding these principles enables us to cultivate a society characterized by consent, respect, and accountability.

If you have any questions, suggestions, or concerns regarding sexual consent or legal matters, please feel free to reach out to us at CostaLaw.

Useful Resources:


If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault or misconduct, it's crucial to seek legal advice and assistance from reputable sources. In British Columbia, several organizations are dedicated to providing support and representation to survivors of

sexual violence.

1. BC Society of Transition Houses (BCSTH): The BCSTH offers a network of transition houses and safe homes for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault across British Columbia. They provide comprehensive support services, including legal assistance, counseling, and advocacy.

Contact Information:

Website: BCSTH Website

Phone: 604-669-6943

2. Ending Violence Association of British Columbia (EVA BC): EVA BC is a provincial

umbrella organization that works to coordinate and support the work of victim service and

violence prevention programs across British Columbia. They offer resources, training, and

support for individuals and organizations working to end sexual and domestic violence.

Contact Information:

Website: EVA BC Website

Phone: 604-633-2506

3. Legal Services Society (LSS) - Family LawLINE: The LSS provides legal aid and support

to low-income individuals facing family law issues, including those related to domestic violence and sexual assault. Their Family LawLINE offers free legal advice and information over the phone.

Contact Information:

Website: LSS Website

Phone: Family LawLINE: 1-866-577-2525

4. VictimLink BC: VictimLink BC is a toll-free, confidential, and multilingual telephone service

available across the province for victims of crime. They provide information and referrals to

support services, including legal assistance for survivors of sexual violence.

Contact Information:

Website: Victim Link

Phone: VictimLink BC: 1-800-563-0808

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