Legal System

As a visitor to Canada, you have the same rights as Canadian citizens and are protected under the same laws. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that anyone residing in Canada, including your dependents, has the freedom of:

  • Conscience and religion
  • Thought, belief, opinion and expression
  • Peaceful assembly
  • Association

Canadian law applies to everyone living in the country. Based on British common law, it has three main principles:

  • Everyone is equal under the law
  • An accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty
  • Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law

As a newcomer to Canada, you have the full protection of these laws. You're also expected to abide by Canadian rules and regulations, including nondiscrimination. If you break any laws in Canada, you may be prosecuted and, in serious cases, asked to leave the country.

Laws vary from province to province, which is something to be aware when you travel outside Ontario. For example, in Ontario you must be 19 years old to buy or consume alcohol, but only 18 years old in Quebec.

Right to privacy

Many Canadian institutions, companies and service providers have policies to protect individual privacy. Once you arrive here, you'll be subject to these policies and privacy laws. Waterloo’s privacy policy forbids anyone from giving out information about you without permission. For example, if your parents call the university looking for information about you, the university cannot provide any information unless you authorize its release.

Freedom of religion

Many different religions are practised at Waterloo and in the surrounding community. The University has several multi-faith prayer spaces on campus for your use. You can also access faith-based communities off-campus. On campus chaplains can offer you support in spiritual matters as needed. Get in touch or visit them in the Chaplain’s Office on the third floor of the Student Life Centre (SLC).

Students who wish to practice their faith are free to do so. Canada respects all religions, and religious persecution and harassment is against the law.

Freedom of speech

Everyone has a right to speak an opinion, even if that opinion differs from yours. In Canada, everyone has the right to voice their concerns without prejudice.

Freedom of sexual orientation/gender expression

In Canada, you're free to love or engage in consensual sexual activity with whomever you choose. This applies to all people in Canada, whether heterosexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, or queer. 

Drug and alcohol laws

Recreational cannabis for adults over 19 was legalized in Canada on October 17, 2018 by the federal government. Familiarize yourself with the Cannabis Act, including the rules in Ontario and other provinces and territories you may visit. Beyond facing fines, criminal charges, or jail time, temporary residents, permanent residents, and refugee claimants who commit an impaired driving or other cannabis-related crime may be found inadmissible to Canada for serious criminality.

In Ontario, only adults 19 years and older are allowed to buy and consume alcohol. In Ontario, alcohol is sold in wine stores, wineries, beer stores, some grocery stores and Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) stores. It's not available in convenience stores. If you buy alcohol, or you're going to a public event where alcohol will be sold or consumed, you’ll need to show proof that you are 19 or older. Showing your driver’s license, passport, or other government issued photo identification will allow you to purchase alcohol.


  • It's illegal to carry open liquor (bottles of alcoholic beverages with the top off or seal broken) in a car.
  • Drinking outside of licensed areas, pubs, or bars (e.g. on the street) isn't allowed. Don't walk in public with open liquor. If you're caught doing so, you may be fined or arrested. Likewise, when buying alcohol from a liquor store, keep it in a bag unopened to avoid being fined.
  • Don't provide liquor to anyone under 19 years of age.
  • Don't operate a vehicle after you have consumed alcohol or cannabis.
  • Don't behave in a disorderly manner in establishments licensed to serve alcohol.
  • Cooperate with police if you're asked to do a breathalyzer test (test which measures the amount of alcohol in your blood).
  • The use and sale of illegal drugs is prohibited in Canada.

Tobacco laws

In Ontario, you must be at least 19-years-old to purchase cigarettes. Stores may ask you to show photo identification to prove your age. Most cities have laws prohibiting smoking in any indoor public establishments, including restaurants, bars, shopping malls, grocery stores, and university buildings. Violating this law can result in a fine of $500 or more.

Motor vehicle laws

If you'd like to drive a car while in Canada, a valid driver’s license is required. If you have a valid driver’s license from your home country it'll only be valid in Canada for the first 90 days after you land in the country. If your driver’s license is from any country other than the United States, you must also have an international driver’s license

In Canada, you must wear a seat belt while travelling in a motor vehicle. Children less than eight-years-old must also have a safety seat. Drivers must ensure that passengers under 16 years old are using the seat belt or an appropriate child car seat or booster seat. Without the correct car seat (infant seat, child seat or booster seat), your child will not be safe and the driver of the vehicle could be fined $90, two demerit points, and a victim surcharge for breaking the law. Visit the Transport Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation websites for the most up-to-date regulations on car seats for children.

Demerit points are a penalty added to your driver’s licence if you're convicted of breaking driving laws. Demerit points may impact your automobile insurance rate and stay on your record for two years from the offence date. If you collect enough points, your driver’s licence may be revoked.