Sexual assault laws in Canada

Laws regarding sexual assault of adults are covered under the Criminal Code of Canada (R.S., c. C-34 [1993]). The following is a condensed version of these laws.

Level One: Simple sexual assault

  • Any form of sexual activity forced on someone else (ex: kissing, touching, oral sex, vaginal/anal intercourse, etc.) without consent and without causing bodily harm.

Maximum 10-year prison term.

Level Two: Sexual assault with a weapon / threats to a third party / causing bodily harm

Occurs when a person is sexually assaulted by someone who:

  • Uses a weapon or threatens to use a weapon (imitation or real);
  • Threatens to cause harm to a third person (friend, family member or children);
  • Causes bodily harm to a third party, or;
  • Commits the assault with any other person – multiple assailants

Maximum 14-year prison term.

Level Three: Aggravated sexual assault

  • Occurs when a person brutally beats, wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of someone during an assault.

Maximum life sentence to prison.

Other Aspects of the Law in Canada:

  • There is no statute of limitations for prosecution of sexual assault. This means that a survivor is legally entitled to press charges of sexual assault at any point in time after it occurs, no matter how long ago it happened.
  • The three levels of sexual assault focus on the severity of the assault. The degree of personal injury to the survivor determines which level applies. This parallels physical assault charges.
  • The term “sexual assault” is more broad in its application than “rape”; as such, the law now acknowledges that other forms of unwanted sexual activity are as damaging to survivors as forced sexual intercourse. In addition, sexual assault laws are no longer gender-biased, and recognize that people of all genders can be victims (and perpetrators), and that they should all be provided with equal treatment by the law.
  • Under the law, it is a crime for one partner to force the other into sexual activity. This means that while two people may have had consensual sex previously, this does not give the right for a partner to assume that both parties automatically consent to further/ongoing sexual activity.
  • The law does not require corroboration for charges to be made, although the case is stronger if there is a witness or some other supporting evidence.


Defined as the voluntary agreement, by words or conduct, to engage in sexual activity. With regards to adult sexual assault, lack of consent is critical in determining whether a sexual assault has occurred. The law also states that people have the right to change their minds at any point in a sexual encounter and to withdraw consent by words or conduct. Consent cannot be provided under the following conditions:

  • Where the survivor was incapable of consenting;
  • Where the survivor used words or conduct to indicate “no”;
  • Where the survivor changed her mind;
  • Where someone other than the survivor gave consent for her;
  • Where there was an abuse of trust or authority.

The following defences cannot be used by a perpetrator:

  • He was too intoxicated to realize s/he had not consented;
  • He believed s/he was consenting (a person must take reasonable steps to find out if consent has been given).