What Is the Drinking Age in Canada?

By Teo Spengler

Birthday champagne comes years earlier in Canada

What Is the Drinking Age in Canada?

Unlike the U.S., Canada does not have a national minimum drinking age. Each province and territory has its own laws as to the legal age for purchasing and consuming alcohol. The ages selected by provinces and territories across Canada differ, but they are all lower than the drinking age of 21 years old that applies in the United States. This means that if you are 18 or 19 years old, you may be able to order an alcoholic drink while you are traveling in Canada, although you are forbidden from doing so in your own country.

No national minimum drinking age

In the United States, each state used to determine its own drinking age laws, and, as in Canada, the laws differed. However, in 1984, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act passed, a law that required states to raise the minimum age to purchase and possess alcohol to 21 years old. Today, all states impose a minimum age limit of 21.

In Canada, the individual states and provinces set their own laws about drinking. Without exception, they have set the minimum drinking age to either 18 or 19 years old. In Alberta, Man​ito​ba and Q​uébec​​, you can drink legally at 18 years old. The limit is 19 years old in Britis​h Colu​mbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, the ​Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, ​​Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and the Yukon. ​​

Concerns about youth drinking

However, many Canadian territories and provinces are reconsidering their drinking age laws. This follows increasing evidence that the lower age limits increase deaths.

For example, in 2014, Dr. Russell Callaghan with the University of Northern British Columbia published a study that demonstrates a link between Canada’s drinking age laws with the age of death. Dr. Callaghan compared the mortality rates of Canadian men slightly under the minimum legal drinking age to young men slightly above that age. He found significantly higher rates of death for those over the drinking age. The deaths were often from injuries and traffic accidents.

According to Callaghan's research, increasing the drinking age to 19 years of age in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec would reduce the deaths of 18 year old men. It would prevent seven deaths of teenage males every year. Raising the drinking age to 21 years across Canada, Callaghan concluded, would prevent 32 deaths of teenage males every year.

High cost of alcohol in Canada

The Canadian government is considering an increase in the cost of alcohol with excise taxes to reduce drinking. However, some claim that this would not help given the cheap alcohol available in the U.S.

How much alcohol can you bring into Canada from the U.S. as a tourist? Not much. You are only allowed to bring a small quantity of alcohol into Canada without paying duty or taxes. You can bring in two 750 ml bottles of wine, one large bottle of liquor, or 24 cans or bottles of beer if you are of age in the province or territory where you enter.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Spengler splits her time between French Basque Country and California.