The Law and Underage Marriage

Under Canada’s Constitution Act, marriage is a federal power.  The Canadian government has passed laws that allow same-sex marriage, and prohibit certain people related by blood or adoption from getting married.

However, federal law does not stipulate the age when people can get married.  The solemnization of marriage - how a marriage is legally recognized - is the jurisdiction of each province, and those laws vary.

In most provinces across the country, you have to be at least 16 years of age before you can get married.  If you’re under 18 years old, you’ll need the consent of both parents in most places. 

You may be surprised to learn that it is not illegal if two people under the age of 16 refer to themselves as married. Their union will simply not be recognized as valid.  However, the person who officiates such a marriage might be committing a crime. 

In most circumstances, it is a crime if someone under the age of 16 has marital relations with a person significantly older than them.  Canada’s Criminal Code includes laws around the age of consent.  Children aged 12 or 13 can consent to sex with a partner no more than two years older than them.  Children between 14 and 16 years old may have a relationship with someone no more than five years older, unless that person is in a position of trust (such as a teacher or caregiver).  The Criminal Code also states that 14-16 year olds may consent to sex with someone they have married, regardless of their age - but in most provinces that is irrelevant, since children under the age of 16 cannot get married. 

Recently released search warrants show that the Quebec provincial police are investigating allegations that some girls under the age of 16 in Lev Tahor were married to men much older than them.

Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans told the fifth estate’s Gillian Findlay, “I never marry children against the law”.

He did say that there were three cases where 15-year-olds were married.  They travelled to Missouri, where children can be married at 15 with the consent of their parent or guardian, to be married by a judge before returning to their community.  In Quebec and Ontario, where Lev Tahor has been based since coming to Canada, those marriages would not be recognized as valid, since people under the age of 16 cannot get married in either province.