Many people are unsure of whether they are legally obligated to report a criminal offense if they suspect or believe that one is taking place, particularly when it comes to children, child abuse or the abuse of an adult.

According to information from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other sources:

  • No person has the explicit duty to report a crime, as there is no obligation to do so within the Criminal Code of Canada. This means that although a person may suspect that a crime has taken place, they are under no legal obligation to report it and cannot be convicted of an offense, as no such offense exists.
  • When speaking of persons in professional positions such as those of doctors or teachers, they may be obligated under the policy of their work place or provincial legislation to report crimes that they believe have been committed. Because of their professional positions, these types of people have an ethical and also legal obligation under the laws of the province in which they work, or are bound by their work contracts; to report any suspicions or beliefs they have about the abuse or neglect of a child to the appropriate authorities.
  • For example, social services workers are bound by the Child, Family and Community Service Act in British Columbia (specifically Part 3, sections 13 and 14) to report the need for protection of any child they suspect may be being abused. If they believe that abuse or neglect has occurred, these professionals must then report their suspicions to the designated agency such as The Children’s Aid Society or the local police. The duty to report child abuse is ongoing in that even if the person has already made previous reports of abuse or neglect on the same child, they are still obligated to report any other incidents of suspected abuse or neglect.
  • In different provinces there are different protection acts that guide the general population about when they are responsible for reporting crimes (this mainly applies to cases of abuse) and if it is mandatory or voluntary to report the crime. If they are found guilty of not reporting a crime they may be guilty of committing an offense under the act specific to their province, but not under the Criminal Code of Canada.
  • As mentioned, a person who suspects that a crime is occurring does not have to report it; however if the persons suspicions are confirmed because they have witnessed the crime or have been told that the crime has occurred, and by not reporting this crime to the police or other designated agency the person is in some way aiding or abetting the crime to take place, they may be liable under section 22 of the Criminal Code. (Rare).
  • There are designated agencies which are best equipped to handle the reporting of various crimes. Reporting a crime to the local police is always the best way if someone is unsure of where to go. Crimes involving children can also be reported to a local child protection agency such as The Children’s Aid Society. For online crimes involving pornography or exploitation a report can also be made on the website cybertip.ca.

The legislation that deals with the reporting of child or adult abuse for provinces and territories is broken down below.

Reporting the Abuse or Neglect of a Child

Alberta

Under section 4 (1) of the Child, Youth, and Family Enhancement Act, any person who has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a child is in need of Intervention shall forthwith report the matter to a director. Subsection (1) applies notwithstanding that the information on which the belief is founded is confidential and its disclosure is prohibited under any other Act. This section does not apply to information that is privileged as a result of a solicitor-client relationship. No action lies against a person reporting pursuant to this section, including a person who reports information that would otherwise be confidential, unless the reporting is done maliciously or without reasonable and probable grounds for the belief.  In addition to any other penalty provided by this Act, any person who fails to comply with subsection (1) is guilty of an offense and liable to a fine of not more than $2000 and in default of payment to imprisonment for a term of not more than 6 months.

British Columbia

Under the Child, Family, and Community Service Act, section 14 (1) states that a person who has reason to believe that a child needs protection must promptly report the matter to a director or a person designated by a director. This applies even if the information is privileged, except as a result of a solicitor-client relationship. It also applies even if the information is confidential and is prohibited under another Act. A person who contravenes this section commits an offense, as well as if they knowingly report false information. A person who commits an offense under this section is liable to a fine of up to ten thousand dollars or to imprisonment for 6 months, or both.

Manitoba

Under the Child and Family Service Act of Manitoba, section 18 (1) states that where a person has information that leads the person reasonably to believe that a child is or might be in need of protection, the person shall forthwith report the information to an agency or to a parent or guardian of the child. In addition to the duty to report under subsection (1), a person who reasonably believes that a representation, material or recording is, or might be, child pornography shall promptly report the information to a reporting entity. Where a person believes that the abuse or neglect is by a parent or guardian, the person shall report the information to an appropriate agency. If a person contravenes this act in any way, they are guilty of an offense and are liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than $50,000 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 24 months, or both.

Saskatchewan

According to the Child and Family Services Act, under section 12 (1), every person who has reasonable grounds to believe that a child is in need of protection shall report the information to an officer or peace officer. Subsection (1) applies notwithstanding any claim of confidentiality or professional privilege other than: (a) solicitor-client privilege; or (b) Crown privilege. Any peace officer who suspects a child is being abused or neglected shall immediately report that information to an officer.

Ontario

Under the Child and Family Services Act, section 72 (1) states that if a person, including a person who performs professional or official duties with respect to children, has reasonable grounds to suspect any form of abuse or neglect, the person shall forthwith report the suspicion and the information on which it is based to a society.

If a person believes that a child is further being abused or neglected, they shall make a further report even if they have already made on previously with respect to the same child. These suspicions must be made to the appropriate society, organization or person designated to receive such reports (e.g. Children’s Aid Society, police, welfare agency etc.).

The Act places a particular responsibility on professionals and officials who work with children as they have a special awareness of the signs of child abuse and neglect. Such a person is guilty of an offense if they fail to report the information they have acquired to the appropriate agency. A person convicted of an offense under this section is liable to a fine of not more than $1,000. This duty to report overrides professional confidentiality except in the case of lawyers who must not divulge privileged information.

Quebec

Under the Youth Protection Act of Quebec, section 39 states that any professional who provides care or dispenses services to children or adolescents, any employee of an institution, any teacher or any policeman has an obligation to report all situations, even if that person has privileged information, if he/she has reason to believe the child is in any way in danger. Additionally, any person, other than a person referred to above, who has reasonable grounds to believe has suffered physical or sexual abuse is obligated bring the situation to the attention of the director. Any person, other than a person referred to previously, may report suspicions of abandonment, neglect, psychological ill-treatment or behaviour disturbances to the director but are not obligated to.

New Brunswick

Under the Family Services Act, section 30 (1) states that any person who has information causing him to suspect that a child has been abandoned, deserted, physically or emotionally neglected, physically or sexually ill-treated or otherwise abused shall inform the Minister of the situation without delay. This section applies notwithstanding that the person has acquired the information through the discharge of his duties or within a confidential relationship, but nothing in this subsection abrogates any privilege that may exist because of the relationship between a solicitor and the solicitor’s client. A professional person who acquires information in the discharge of their professional responsibilities that causes the professional person to suspect that a child has been abused or neglected, and who does not inform the appropriate agency or Minister is guilty of an offense. The consequences of committing such an offense are established by the Minister.

Nova Scotia

Under the Children and Family Services Act, section 23 (1) states that every person who has information, whether or not it is confidential or privileged, indicating that a child is in need of protective services shall forthwith report that information to an agency. Section 24 (2) states that every person who performs professional or official duties with respect to a child, such as health care professionals, teachers, social workers, peace officers, members or operators of a child care facility or service, or youth recreational officers, who in the course of that person’s professional or official duties, has reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is or may be suffering or may have suffered abuse shall forthwith report the suspicion and the information upon which it is based to an agency. No action lies against a person for reporting information pursuant to subsection (2), unless the reporting is done falsely and maliciously. If a person contravenes these sections of the Act, they are guilty of a summary offense and are liable to a fine of not more than two thousand dollars or a period of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months, or both. Every person who falsely and maliciously reports information to an agency indicating that a child is or may be suffering or may have suffered abuse is guilty of an offense and upon summary conviction is liable to a fine of not more than two thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both

Newfoundland

Under the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, section 15 states that where a person has information that a child is or may be in need of protective intervention, the person shall immediately report the matter and all of the information they have to a director, social worker or a peace officer. This section applies, regardless of the provisions in another Act, to health care professionals, teachers, religious leaders, child care workers, youth recreational workers, peace officers and solicitors, as well others listed in section 15 (5). A person who contravenes this section is guilty of an offense and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or to both a fine and imprisonment

Prince Edward Island

In PEI, section 10 (1) of the Child Protection Act states that notwithstanding any other Act, every person who has knowledge, or has reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is in need of protection shall, without delay, report or cause to be reported the circumstances to the Director, or to a peace officer who shall report the information to the Director; and will provide to the Director such additional information as is known or available to the person. Subsection (1) applies notwithstanding the confidential nature of the information on which the report is based, but nothing in this section affects any solicitor-client privilege. There is no information currently available regarding consequences for failing to report the abuse or neglect of a child under this Act.

Yukon

According to the Child and Family Services Act, section 22 (1) states that a person who has reason to believe that a child is in need of protective intervention shall immediately report the information on which they base their belief to a director or peace officer. Subsection (1) applies even if the information on which the belief is based is confidential and disclosure of the information is prohibited under another Act; or is privileged, except as a result of a solicitor-client relationship.

Northwest Territories

Under section 8 (1) of the Child and Family Services Act, it is stated that a person who has information of the need of protection of a child shall, without delay, report the matter to a Child Protection Worker; or if a Child Protection Worker is not available, to a peace officer or an authorized person. Subsection (1) does not require a person to report information received in the course of a judicial proceeding. Every person who contravenes subsection (1) is guilty of an offense and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to both

Nunavut

The Child and Family Services Act of Nunavut states that, notwithstanding any duty of confidentiality (except lawyer-client privilege) a person knowing or believing that a child is in need of protection is required to report it to a Child Protection Worker, or if unavailable, to a Peace Officer. Consequences for a contravention of this Act are not specified.

Reporting the Abuse or Neglect Of an Adult

Alberta

In Alberta, under the Protection for Persons in Care Act, section 2 (1) states that every individual or service provider who has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that there is or has been abuse against a client shall report that abuse to the Minister or a police service or a committee, body or person authorized under another enactment to investigate such an abuse. Subsection (1) applies even if the information on which the belief is founded is confidential and its disclosure is prohibited under any other Act, however, this subsection does not apply to information that is privileged as a result of a solicitor–client relationship. if the Minister has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a person has not complied with section 2 and that person is registered under an Act regulating a profession or occupation prescribed in the Regulations (e.g. social service provider, doctor etc.) the appropriate Minister shall advise the appropriate body of that profession or occupation of the failure to comply. Any person who fails to comply is guilty of an offense and liable to a fine of not more than $2000 and in default of payment to imprisonment for a term of not more than 6 months.

British Columbia

Under the Adult Guardianship Act, section 46 (a) states that anyone who has information indicating that an adult is abused or neglected, or is unable to seek support and assistance because of physical restraint, illness, disease or physical handicap, may report the circumstances to a designated agency (e.g. police). The reporting of this information is voluntary.

Manitoba

In Manitoba, the only provisions for the mandatory reporting of the abuse of an adult are in the Vulnerable Persons Living with a Mental Disability Act.  Section 21 (1) of this Act states that service providers, substitute decision makers or a committee who believes on reasonable grounds that the vulnerable person in respect of whom he or she is a service provider, substitute decision maker or committee, is or is likely to be abused or neglected shall immediately report the belief and the information upon which it is based to the executive director. Under section 164 (1), A person is guilty of an offense under this Act who fails, refuses or neglects to report that a vulnerable person is or is likely to be abused or neglected as required under section 21.  A person who is guilty of an offense under subsection (1) is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than $2000, or imprisonment for a term not more than six months, or both; in the case of a corporation, a fine of not more than $5000.

Saskatchewan

There are no provisions regarding the reporting of adult abuse for this province.

Ontario

Adult protection laws have been introduced through private members bills but have yet to be adopted. The exception is in nursing homes and retirement homes. A person must report to the Director at the Minister of Health and Long Term are if they suspect that a resident of a nursing home, or to the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority if they suspect that a resident of a retirement home has suffered or may suffer harm as a result of unlawful conduct, improper or incompetent treatment or care or neglect.

Contact Information:
Minister of Health and Long term Care: 1-866-434-0144
Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority: 1-855-275-7472

Quebec

There are no provisions regarding the reporting of adult abuse for this province.

New Brunswick

Under the Family Services Act, section 35.1 (1), a  professional person may disclose information to the Minister respecting a person whom the professional person has reason to believe is a neglected adult or an abused adult, including information that has been acquired through the discharge of the professional person’s duties or within a professional relationship. Reporting this information is voluntary.

Nova Scotia

Under the Adult Protection Act, section 5 (1) states that every person who has information, whether or not it is confidential or privileged, indicating that an adult is in need of protection shall report that information to the Minister.  If a person has this information but chooses not to report their suspicions, the Act states that they are guilty of an offense under the Act and can be punished on summary conviction and is liable to a fine of one thousand dollars or one year in prison, or both.

Newfoundland

Under the Neglected Adults Welfare Act, section 4 (1) states that a person who has information which leads him or her to believe that an adult is a neglected adult shall give the information, together with the name and address of the adult, to the director or to a social worker who shall report the matter to the director. If a person does not report the information, they are guilty of an offense under this Act. Additionally, section 15 of the Act states that anyone who disobeys or obstructs the execution of an order made under the Act, or who contravenes the Act, is also guilty of an offense. Specific sections of the Act outline specific penalties for different breaches, but where not specified, an offense committed under this act carries the penalty of a summary conviction in which the person may be liable to up to 2 months in prison or a two hundred dollar fine, or both.

Prince Edward Island

Under the Adult Protection Act, section 4 (1) states that any person who has reasonable grounds for believing that a person is, or is at risk of being, in need of assistance or  protection may report the circumstances in such a manner and to such authority or person as may be designated by the Minister (ex. police, welfare agency etc.). Reporting these suspicions or beliefs is voluntary.

Yukon

There are no provisions regarding the reporting of adult abuse for this territory.

Northwest Territories

There are no provisions regarding the reporting of adult abuse for this territory.

Nunavut

There are no provisions regarding the reporting of adult abuse for this territory.

Essentially, under the Criminal Code of Canada, there is no specific offense related to the failure to report crimes that a person suspects have been committed against a child or an adult. Thus, no one is under a legal obligation to report those suspicions to the police or other appropriate agency. However, some professional persons are bound by their provincial child or adult protection Acts, or by the policies of their work place, to report any beliefs or suspicions they may have that some form of abuse has taken place. If they fail to report this information, they may face a fine or imprisonment, or both.

While it is true that there is, in most cases, no legal obligation for people outside of a professional position to report suspected abuse or neglect of children or adults, there is a moral one. If you suspect that a child or adult is being abused, those suspicions should be reported to the police or child protection agency in your area so that an investigation can be done to determine if abuse or neglect is in fact taking place. Sometimes you may be the only one to notice the psychological or behaviour indicators of abuse and neglect, and it is your moral and ethical obligation to make sure that the person does not suffer further. You cannot be punished or face any negative consequences for reporting the abuse of a child or an adult, even if it turns out that the person was not being abused, unless the information was reported with a malicious intent or was known to be false.

Last modified: October 5, 2016