Canada has a unique approach to drinking age laws, with each province and territory setting its own legal drinking age.
As of 2023, the legal drinking age in Canada ranges from 18 to 19 years old, depending on the province or territory. This article will explore the history of drinking age laws in Canada, the current legal drinking age in each province and territory, and some of the key factors that have influenced these laws.
In the 1970s, all Canadian provinces and territories lowered their minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) from 20 or 21 years old to either 18 or 19 years old, which is close to the age group that is legally considered an adult.
Ontario and Saskatchewan specifically increased their MLDA from 18 years old to 19 years old in the late 1970s. While the legal drinking age is set by each province and territory, the federal government has played a role in encouraging uniformity across the country. For example, the federal government has provided funding to provinces and territories that have agreed to set their MLDA at 19 years old.
It is important to note that the legal drinking age is not the same as the legal age for purchasing alcohol. In Canada, the legal age for purchasing alcohol is the same as the legal drinking age in most provinces and territories. However, some provinces and territories allow people under the legal drinking age to consume alcohol in certain circumstances, such as in private residences with parental consent.
Legal Drinking Age in Canada
In Canada, the legal drinking age is determined by each province and territory. As of 2023, the legal drinking age is 19 years and older in most provinces and territories, including British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, and the Yukon. However, in Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec, the legal drinking age is 18 years old.
The legal drinking age laws in Canada regulate who can purchase, possess, consume, and supply alcohol. These laws have a significant impact on youth alcohol-related harms, as well as the overall health and safety of the population.
It is important to note that consuming alcohol in excess can lead to negative health consequences, including liver damage, increased risk of cancer, and impaired cognitive function. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction recommend that individuals consume alcohol in moderation and avoid binge drinking.
It is also worth noting that Canada recently updated its alcohol consumption guidelines. While acknowledging that 40% of people living in Canada aged 15 and older consume more than six standard drinks per week, the report warns that no amount of alcohol is safe to consume.
Alcohol Consumption and Risks
Alcohol consumption is a common practice in Canada, and the legal drinking age varies by province.
In most provinces and territories, the legal drinking age is 19 years old, except for Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec, where it is 18 years old. The legal drinking age applies to purchasing and consuming alcohol in public places, such as bars, restaurants, and liquor stores.
While moderate alcohol consumption may have some health benefits, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a wide range of health risks. According to Health Canada, the low-risk drinking guidelines recommend that men should not exceed 15 standard drinks per week, and women should not exceed 10 standard drinks per week.
Binge drinking, defined as consuming five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women on one occasion, is a significant risk factor for alcohol poisoning, accidents, and injuries. It can also increase the risk of developing mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, and can lead to alcoholism and addiction.
Alcohol consumption is also associated with an increased risk of cancer, particularly breast, liver, and colorectal cancer. It can also increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, alcohol-related deaths accounted for 2.2% of all deaths in Canada in 2017.
Alcohol poisoning is a severe consequence of excessive alcohol consumption and can lead to coma or death. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow or irregular breathing, and low body temperature. It is essential to seek medical attention immediately if someone exhibits these symptoms after drinking alcohol excessively.
Purchasing and Consumption Guidelines
In Canada, each province and territory has the right to set its own drinking age.
The legal age for purchasing alcohol in different provinces of Canada varies from 18 to 19 years old. The legal drinking age in Alberta, Quebec, and Manitoba is 18 years old, while the legal age for purchasing alcohol is 19 years old in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, Yukon, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.
It is important to note that even if someone is of legal drinking age, they should still be mindful of the amount of alcohol they consume. Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines recommend no more than 2 standard drinks per day for women and no more than 3 standard drinks per day for men, with at least 2 non-drinking days per week.
The guidelines also recommend no more than 10 drinks per week for women and no more than 15 drinks per week for men. It is important to keep in mind that these guidelines are for low-risk alcohol use and that consuming more than the recommended amount can lead to health problems and injuries.
Evidence shows that excessive alcohol use can lead to alcohol use disorder, which is a chronic and relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using alcohol. It can also lead to injuries, including falls, motor vehicle accidents, and violence.
When purchasing alcohol, it is important to do so from a licensed store and to always have proper identification available. It is illegal to purchase alcohol for minors, and those caught doing so can face fines and even imprisonment.
Legal Penalties and Exceptions
The legal drinking age in Canada varies by province and territory, with some setting it at 18 years old and others at 19 years old. It is important to note that there are legal penalties for violating these laws, as well as some exceptions for underage drinking.
Penalties for violating the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) can include fines, license suspensions, and even criminal charges. For example, in Ontario, the penalty for selling alcohol to a minor can result in a fine of up to $100,000 and/or imprisonment for up to one year. Additionally, individuals under the age of 19 who are caught possessing or consuming alcohol can face fines of up to $200.
However, there are some exceptions to the MLDA laws in Canada. For example, minors are allowed to consume alcohol in certain circumstances, such as when it is provided by a parent or guardian in a private residence. Additionally, some provinces and territories allow minors to consume alcohol in licensed establishments if they are accompanied by a legal guardian or spouse who is of legal drinking age.
It is important to note that while there are exceptions to the MLDA laws, there are also strict regulations in place to prohibit underage drinking. For example, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to purchase or attempt to purchase alcohol in Canada. Additionally, it is illegal for anyone to provide alcohol to a minor, even if they are a parent or guardian, unless it is under the specific circumstances outlined in the law.
Identification and Proof of Age
To purchase or consume alcohol in Canada, one must provide identification that proves they are of legal drinking age.
Acceptable forms of identification include a current, government-issued ID that includes a photo of the person and their birth date. Some examples of valid IDs include a driver’s license, passport, or provincial or territorial identification card.
It is important to note that some provinces and territories have additional requirements for proof of age. For example, in British Columbia, a secondary piece of ID is required in addition to a primary photo ID. This secondary piece of ID can be a document with the person’s name and signature or picture.
It is also important to ensure that the ID being presented is current and not expired. Expired IDs are not considered valid proof of age.
In addition to government-issued ID, some establishments may accept other forms of identification as proof of age. For example, some universities or colleges issue student ID cards that include a photo and birth date. However, it is important to check with the establishment beforehand to ensure that the ID being presented is acceptable.
It is the responsibility of the seller or server to ensure that the person they are serving is of legal drinking age. Failure to do so can result in fines or other legal consequences. Therefore, it is important for both establishments and customers to be familiar with the acceptable forms of identification and to ensure that they are always carrying valid ID when consuming or purchasing alcohol.