The law about Sexual Assault
Update of the Law section: May 12, 2022
The information presented in this section is provided for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice.
Sexual assault, as defined in the Orientations gouvernementales, is the subject of several pieces of criminal and civil legislation. In Canada, some acts of a sexual nature committed without a person’s consent that are included in this definition are also recognized as sexual offences under the Criminal Code, such as sexual assault and other sexual offences. In Québec,pursuant to the Civil Code of Québec, a person who has suffered injury as a result of any sexual gesture, under the Criminal Code or not, may institute civil proceedings against the person responsible and may apply for compensation to the court.
The application of Canadian and Québec laws is governed, in particular, by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which guarantee fundamental individual rights (e.g., right to equality, right to security, right to integrity, etc.). Certain rights specific to victims of crime are also guaranteed by the Canadian Victims Bill of Rightsand, in Québec, by the Act to assist persons who are victims of criminal offences and to facilitate their recovery.
In cases where the victim of sexual assault is a minor, a specific law applies in Québec, namely, the Youth Protection Act, which defines the circumstances of sexual assault covered by its application.The Act provides for legal means and interventions that are to be applied in order to protect child and youth victims and to put an end to situations where their security or development is in danger.
Young people 12 to 17 years of age accused of committing a sexual offence are subject to specific mechanisms during their judicial proceedings that differ from those applicable to adults. In Canada, the Youth Criminal Justice Actapplies to young people accused of a sexual offence, and its primary goal is to protect the public through accountability, rehabilitation, and reintegration of young offenders into the community.
Lastly, minors, in some cases, and adults who are found guilty of certain sexual offences, including sexual assault, are subject to the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, which requires that certain information be provided to law enforcement agencies and that it be registered with the National Sex Offender Registry.
> For more information, see the Legal Framework
The criminal justice process in cases of sexual assault is the same as for other crimes against the person; however, specific rules apply with regard to evidence management and admissibility. In Canada, the judicial process can consist of several steps; for example, reporting a sexual assault to the police, conducting a police investigation, transferring the file to a criminal and penal prosecuting attorney, arresting the suspect, having the accused appear in court, entering a plea, conducting a preliminary hearing, holding a trial, rendering a verdict, and imposing a sentence if the accused is found guilty.
Young persons 12 to 17 years of age accused of a sexual offence are subject to judicial process provisions that differ from those applicable to adults. For example, young people have access to sociolegal interventions adapted to their needs, as well as mechanisms to help them develop a sense of responsibility and accountability for their actions. These provisions are specified in the Youth Protection Act and the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
In Canada, the judicial process for people found guilty of a crime within the meaning of the Criminal Code continues through to the correctional process. The terms and conditions for that purpose are provided for in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
In Québec, the Act to create a court specialized in sexual violence and domestic violence provides for the implementation of a specialized division in the Court of Quebec to hear to hear cases involving these types of violence.The Act also stipulates that people who are victims of sexual or domestic violence will be provided with specialized support to improve their experience in the criminal justice process. The specialized court is currently a pilot project in some regions of Québec and is expected to be extended to the entire province in November 2026.
> For more information, see the Criminal Justice Process
Author: Maude Lachapelle, Scientific Advisor, INSPQ
In collaboration with: Dominique Gagné, Scientific Advisor, INSPQ, and Michaël Lessard, Lawyer and Law Professor, Université de Sherbrooke