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Youth and the Law in Alberta/Health & Medical

From Canadian Legal FAQs

< Youth and the Law in Alberta

Health & Medical

How old do I have to be to get help if I’m being abused?

You can report abuse at any age.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child applies to you. This international agreement sets out minimum and basic standards that all people under 18 should be entitled to. These standards include your right to protection from abuse and exploitation.

To report abuse or seek help, call the Alberta Child Abuse Hotline at: 1-800-387-KIDS (5437).

For more information on responding to abuse see: Government of Alberta > Responding to Abuse: A Handbook from the list of Additional Resources.

How old do I have to be to consent to have sex?

It depends.

In general, Canadian law says that the age of consent for sexual activity is 16 years old. But there are exceptions. In addition, depending on who your sexual partner is, sexual activity may still not be permitted by law. The term “sexual activity” includes any sexual behaviour from touching for a sexual purpose (such as kissing) to sexual intercourse (such as vaginal penetration).

Here is a summary of the rules about sexual partners:

  • Adults (age 18 or older) cannot have sexual relations with people under 16.
  • Also, adults cannot have sexual relations with a person aged 16 or 17 if the adult is in a position of trust or authority over the young person. This would include coaches, teachers, and employers.
  • There are exceptions (to the rule of age 16) for people who are close in age. These exceptions make sure the law does not label consensual sexual activities between young people as criminal offences. It is not a criminal offence if:
    • a young person aged 14 or 15 consents to sexual activity with someone less than 5 years older; or
    • a young person aged 12 or 13 consents to sexual activity with someone less than 2 years older.

But, these exceptions only apply if the older person is not in a position of authority or trust and there is no exploitation.

Young people under 12 years of age cannot give consent at all, even with someone who is close in age.

How old do I have to be to get birth control?

It depends.

Products such as condoms (male and female), spermicides, or contraceptive sponges do not require a prescription and can be purchased by anyone regardless of age. You do not have to prove that you are a certain age, and no one should ask you for proof of age. Condoms may be free at some health clinics. You can also purchase individual male condoms from vending machines in many restaurants or bars.

For other contraceptive methods, such as the birth control pill, the birth control patch and IUDs, you will need to see a doctor. The doctor will then decide which, if any, of these methods of birth control will work for you. You do not necessarily have to be 18 to get a prescription for these kinds of birth control. However, if you are under 18, the doctor may encourage you to consult with your parent. Also, the doctor must ensure that the treatment you are requesting is in the interests of your health and that you understand the nature and consequences of the treatment.

In addition, the Health Information Act provides that you can expressly request that the doctor not inform your parents of the prescription, and, in certain circumstances, your doctor must comply with this request. For more information on the rules regarding a doctor disclosing health information to parents, including the situations in which a doctor must disclose, see here.

The emergency contraceptive pill (“ECP”, also known as the “morning after pill”) is available without a prescription from licensed pharmacists. ECP is not kept on the open shelves; you must ask for it at the pharmacy counter. Pharmacists are required to tell you about the drug, how it works and possible side effects. If you are a minor, a pharmacist can refuse to give you ECP if he or she thinks you don’t understand the information given to you. Some pharmacists may have moral or religious objections to the use of ECP. If so, they can refuse to give it you, but they should refer you to other places where you can get it. The record of your use of ECP is confidential and should not be made available to anyone else without your consent. However, if you are a minor, pharmacists are bound by law to report cases of suspected sexual abuse.

For more information on various methods of birth control, see: Alberta Health and Wellness > Birth Control Publications from the list of Additional Resources.

How old do I have to be to get a pregnancy test?

Over the counter pregnancy tests are available at almost every drugstore and in many supermarkets. They do not require a prescription and can be purchased by anyone regardless of age. These tests analyze urine in order to determine pregnancy.

Pregnancy tests that analyze blood are also available. For one of these you must go to a doctor. The doctor would be bound by doctor-patient confidentiality and should not tell your parents. However, there are certain circumstances (such as suspected sexual assault) where a doctor might have to tell your parents. For more information on the rules regarding a doctor disclosing health information to parents, including the situations in which a doctor must disclose, see this question.

How old do I have to be to buy cigarettes?

In Alberta, the legal age to buy tobacco is 18.

If you are under 18, no one can sell or give you tobacco. Using fake identification to buy tobacco is illegal and may result in consequences.

How old do I have to be to drink alcohol?

You must be the age of majority. In Alberta, that is 18 years of age.

Therefore, if you are under the age of 18, you cannot:

  • buy, drink or possess alcohol;
  • have someone else purchase liquor for you;
  • go into a bar or tavern; and
  • be sold or served any alcohol.

The only exception to this is that a parent or spouse may give an under-aged person an alcoholic drink at home (example: like a glass of wine with Christmas dinner). A home includes a hotel or motel guest room, and a tent or a trailer that is actually being lived in. Similarly, you can only go into a liquor store if you are with your parent or guardian. In all other cases, a person who provides alcohol to someone under the age of 18 commits an offence.

Using fake identification to buy alcohol is illegal and may result in consequences.

How old do I have to be to do drugs?

The use of illegal drugs does not become legal at any age. It is always illegal, at any age. This includes pot (except under certain laws regarding medicinal purposes).

If you are 12 or older, the use or possession of drugs can result in criminal charges.

How old do I have to be to have an abortion? Do I need my parents’ consent?

An abortion is the ending of a pregnancy. Abortions are safe and legal in Canada. You can have an abortion at either a hospital or an abortion clinic. In Alberta, abortions at either hospitals or abortion clinics are covered by Alberta Health Care Insurance.

In Canadian law, there is no age of consent for abortions. However, each hospital has a different policy regarding parental consent. An abortion can be performed at a clinic without a parent’s consent, if it is clear that the young woman understands what she is doing.

Hospitals, clinics, and health insurance plans are obligated to keep confidential the names of all women who have abortions.

For more information on abortion, see: Canadian Federation for Sexual Health > Information about Abortion from the list of Additional Resources.

For information on finding an abortion provider in Alberta, see: Canadians for Choice > Directory from the list of Additional Resources.

How old do I have to be to make medical decisions for myself?

There is no set age.

You can make your own medical decisions as soon as you are considered competent enough to understand and make your own informed decisions. Generally, it is the treating doctor(s) that make this decision (although this is not a strict rule).

Not surprisingly, given this lack of clarity, there are many court cases about individual minors wanting to make their own medical decisions and courts having to assess whether the minors are mature enough to do so.

How old do I have to be to refuse medical treatment?

There is no set age.

You can make your own medical decisions as soon as you are considered competent enough to understand and make your own informed decisions. Generally, it is the treating doctor(s) that make this decision (although this is not a strict rule).

Not surprisingly, given this lack of clarity, there are many court cases about individual minors wanting to make their own medical decisions and courts having to assess whether the minors are mature enough to do so.

Do I need permission from my parents to seek help from a doctor or other health service providers?

It depends.

When you are a minor, you can make your own medical decisions as soon as you are considered competent enough to understand and make your own informed decisions. Generally, it is the treating doctor, or other health service providers, that makes this decision (although this is not a strict rule).

Not surprisingly, given this lack of clarity, there are many court cases about individual minors wanting to make their own medical decisions and courts having to assess whether the minors are mature enough to do so.

Will my parents find out what I’ve said to my doctor or other health service provider?

It depends.

Under the Health Information Act (the Act), minors can refuse to consent to the disclosure of information to their parents, as long as the have the mental capacity to make this decision. In other words, they have to understand the rights and powers of the Act and the consequences of using those powers.

There are, however, certain circumstances in which a doctor must disclose health information, even if the minor has otherwise refused to consent to have the doctor do so. Examples include: if abuse is suspected, in judicial proceedings, to prevent fraud, and if it is related to an offence being investigated.

To learn more about this, see the list of Additional Resources for the following information from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta:

How old do I have to be to get a tattoo?

In Alberta, there is no legislation specifically stating an age of consent for tattooing. However, as getting a tattoo technically requires entering into a contract, tattooing facilities may require that be you 18 years old to get a piercing without parental consent.

Both Health Canada and the Government of Alberta have issued guidelines for tattoo artists. For example, in Alberta, Health Standards suggests that even people over 18 need to demonstrate “informed consent” by providing a dated consent form. This form acknowledges that: they are undertaking the procedure of their own free will; are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol; and are aware that the tattoo is permanent.

For more information, see: Alberta Health and Wellness > Health Standards and Guidelines for Tattooing (PDF – 12 p.) from the list of Additional Resources.

How old do I have to be to get a piercing?

In Alberta, there is no legislation specifically stating an age of consent for body piercing. However, as getting a piercing technically requires entering into a contract, piercing facilities may require that be you 18 years old to get a piercing without parental consent.

If you are under 18, usually you can get a piercing as long as you have parental consent.



This page was last updated in January 2011.