Truancy Laws in Canada

By Last Updated: October 6, 2023

An Introduction to Truancy Laws

Truancy Laws in CanadaTruancy in Canada refers to the unauthorized or unjustified absence of a student from school. It is often referred to as unexcused absences. It entails a deliberate violation of compulsory attendance laws, with each province establishing its own guidelines on attendance requirements. While truancy is not a criminal offence under the Canadian Criminal Code, its implications are addressed through provincial regulations.

How are truancy laws enforced in Canada?

Truancy laws in Canada are primarily enforced at the provincial or territorial level, with education authorities playing a significant role in ensuring school attendance and addressing truancy-related concerns. While the specific enforcement mechanisms may vary across jurisdictions, several common approaches are generally employed:

  1. Attendance Policies: Each province or territory in Canada has established compulsory attendance policies that outline the minimum age or grade level up to which students must attend school. These policies serve as the foundation for enforcing school attendance and avoiding truancy.
  2. School Monitoring and Reporting: Schools play a crucial role in monitoring student attendance and promptly reporting instances of truancy to education authorities. They are responsible for maintaining accurate attendance records and alerting relevant officials when unauthorized absences occur.
  3. Parental Responsibilities: Parents or guardians have a legal obligation to ensure their children’s regular attendance at school. They are expected to provide valid explanations for absences, communicate with the school regarding any concerns, and cooperate with efforts to address truancy issues.
  4. Intervention and Support Programs: Education authorities often implement intervention and support programs to address truancy effectively. These programs may involve early identification and intervention strategies, counselling services, mentorship programs, or collaboration with external agencies to provide necessary support to students and families.
  5. Progressive Measures: In cases of persistent or severe truancy, education authorities may resort to progressive measures. These can include issuing warning letters to parents or guardians, imposing fines or penalties, requiring parents or guardians to attend court proceedings, or even seeking legal intervention.

Acceptable reasons for not attending school

Acceptable reasons that excuse students from attending school in Canada include:

  1. Homeschooling: Students who are being educated at home as part of a recognized homeschooling program are exempt from attending traditional schools.
  2. Illness or Unavoidable Causes: Students who are unable to attend school due to illness or other “unavoidable causes” are permitted to be absent. Schools may require signed notes from parents or doctors to verify the reason for absence.
  3. Musical Instruction: Students who are receiving musical instruction are granted a partial exemption, allowing them to miss up to half a day per week for their musical lessons.
  4. High School Completion: Students who have successfully completed high school are not obligated to continue attending.
  5. Distance from School: If students reside too far away from the nearest school, and the school board does not provide transportation, they are excused from attending.
  6. Religious Holidays: Absences due to religious holidays are allowed.
  7. Suspension, Expulsion, or Exclusion: Students who have been suspended, expelled, or excluded from school, as per the respective policies and procedures, are temporarily or permanently exempt from attending during the specified period.

Special Situations

School Transfers

School transfers can occur for various reasons, including a change in residence, academic program requirements, specialized educational needs, personal circumstances, or seeking a fresh start in a new learning environment. Transfers may be initiated by students themselves, parents or guardians, or educational authorities based on specific circumstances or requests.

In instances where there is disagreement or dissatisfaction with a school transfer decision, individuals may have the right to appeal the decision through the established appeal processes or seek legal advice to understand their options and pursue a resolution.

Home Schooling Rights

Home schooling rights in Canada grant parents or guardians the legal recognition to educate their children at home. This involves notifying or registering with the local or provincial education authority, choosing or developing a suitable curriculum, and complying with periodic assessments or evaluations. While parents have the flexibility to tailor education to their child’s needs, they must meet educational goals and maintain records of progress. Provinces and territories may offer support and resources to home-schooling families. Understanding specific regulations in their jurisdiction is crucial for parents to exercise their home schooling rights effectively and not be in violation of any truancy laws.

Immigrants and Newcomers Rights

In Canada, all children under 18 are entitled to attend school regardless of their immigration status. This includes children who are refugees, asylum seekers, temporary residents, or undocumented. While fees may be applicable for students with a study permit, there are exemptions available. These exemptions include educational exchange programs, children of military personnel under the Visiting Forces Act, protected persons under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, such as refugees, individuals with a lawful presence in Canada through employment authorization or ministerial permit, those under diplomatic or consular acceptance, and students and/or parents without status but with plans to stay in Canada.

Specialized language instruction programs are available for newcomers who require additional support in learning English or French and efforts are made to recognize and assess the education credentials and qualifications of newcomer students.

When enrolling in a school, parents should provide identification, proof of the child’s date of birth, educational documents, and records. Parents arriving after the school year has started should promptly contact the appropriate school board to enroll their children, seeking legal advice if unreasonable delays occur.


What happens if you skip school in Canada?

If a student skips school in Canada, it is considered truancy and is a violation of compulsory attendance laws. The consequences for skipping school can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the frequency of absences that student has had. Education authorities typically will enforce measures such as warnings, fines, or court appearances. It is important to note that skipping school can have long-term effects on a student’s educational progress, future opportunities, and overall well-being.

Can a parent go to jail if their child skips school?

Parents will not be sent to jail if their child skips school in Canada. However, depending on the specific jurisdiction, parents may face fines or have certain conditions placed on them to help ensure their child returns to school. The exact penalties vary across different provinces and territories. While fines and probation are usual outcomes, failure to pay the fine or comply with the terms of probation can potentially lead to a short jail sentence. It is important for parents to understand and abide by the legal obligations related to their child’s school attendance to avoid any legal repercussions.

How many days can you miss school in Canada?

The number of allowable absences from school in Canada can vary depending on the province or territory in which you reside. Each jurisdiction has its own specific regulations and attendance requirements. Generally, the expectation is for students to attend school regularly and minimize absences to ensure academic progress and success. However, the exact number of days allowed for absences may differ. It is advisable to refer to the education authorities or school board in your specific province or territory to obtain accurate information regarding attendance policies and the maximum allowable days for absences within a given school

About The Author

Michael Oykhman

Managing Partner

Michael Oykhman is a senior lawyer and founder of Strategic Criminal Defence, a full-service criminal law firm with central law offices across Western Canada and Ontario.

My professional experience consists of countless court appearances and thousands of successful defences and satisfied clients. Over the last 10 years, I have worked to build a law office where all the lawyers share our collective experience, resources, and passion to help people. Our team approach to legal representation is client–rather than only law–centred. We look for opportunities to add value to our clients through strategic thinking and creative solutions.

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