A CBC News hidden camera investigation reveals some B.C. tattoo parlours are inking teenagers without parental consent — despite a recommendation from the province that minors should obtain the permission of a parent.
CBC News sent a 17-year-old volunteer to three tattoo parlours in the Lower Mainland, where the teen made her age known.
An artist at Geronimo’s Tattoos in Burnaby initially said he believed parental consent was only required for those under the age of 16.
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"He was ready and he said, ‘Do you want to do this now?’ and I said, ‘How long would it take?’ and he said, ‘Twenty minutes,’" the teen told CBC News.
"But I made an excuse not to do it now but he would have done it right then."
But when the teen went back into the shop minutes later, she was told anyone under the age of 18 needs the permission of a parent to get a tattoo.
One staff member at Phoenix Tattoos in Surrey agreed to do the tattoo and ignore the teen’s age, saying it was unlikely her parents would ever find out.
But in a follow-up interview, the shop's owner Phoenix Dredge said there is nothing wrong or illegal with tattooing a 17-year-old, calling it a judgment call as long as the tattoo is not offensive.
"Under 17 — definitely a parent must come in. If they are under 18 — depends on the tattoo," said Dredge.
Only one tattoo parlour — Ink and Honey in Port Coquitlam — flatly refused the teen, saying they wouldn’t ink her unless her parents signed a consent form.
Prince George mom Sheila Hanschen was furious when her 15-year-old daughter got a tattoo without her consent.
"She's 15 and she sends me a picture of a wonderful, ugly jailhouse tattoo on her shoulder," Hanschen said.
"You can also see the spots where the skin is showing right through because they're not solid lines."
When CBC News went to Ink Fetish in Prince George, where the 15-year-old says she got her tattoo, tattoo artist G Fjellnar said it wasn’t their work.
"It kind of looks like an amateur job, like maybe she got it in somebody's basement and then didn't want to tell her mom," Fjellnar said.
"My ink is black. That looks kind of brown."
Ink Fetish says it demands parental consent and won’t ink a teenager without it.
But Fjellnar says there are a lot of so-called amateur scratch artists out there.
"If your child is hell-bent on getting a tattoo, they're not going to your regular, on- the-high-street tattoo shop. They're going to go to their buddy, in a basement, who very likely doesn't have a sterilizer."
Calls for regulation
Hanschen herself got an amateur tattoo as a teen, putting an old boyfriend's name on her fingers.
"It stopped me from getting jobs," she said. "It made me look like a lower class citizen."
Hanschen had her tattoo surgically removed and wants her daughter to do the same.
"There should be rules until a certain age when they've actually become mature enough to decide what they want to do."
Many tattoo artists are calling for changes.
Charles Parent, an artist at the Mad Tatter in Surrey and head of the B.C. Body Art Association, wants the province to create a regulatory body to enforce standards throughout the province.
"Unfortunately, the laws in B.C. right now have no age limit, so really anybody can be tattooed at any age," he said.
"Too many people are catching diseases, too many people are getting injured, there’s massive infections, and too many people are tattooing that have absolutely no idea what they’re doing, without proper training, without using proper [antiseptic]
techniques, without using the proper equipment."
B.C. Health MInister Margaret MacDiarmid says the province does plan to bring in tougher guidelines, but has no plans to make parental consent for teen tattoos a legal requirement.
"To me, the most beneficial thing is for parents to be having the conversation, and to really be thinking, helping their child think long term about what could be the unintended consequences of tattooing or piercing in certain locations," MacDiarmid told CBC News.
In most Canadian cities, there are no laws preventing teens from getting tattoos, only guidelines recommending teenagers obtain parental consent.
In Victoria, the Capital Regional District requires the consent of a parent or guardian. Tattoo artists there are also required to ask for identification from anyone who appears to be under the age of 25.