The End of Limitation Periods for Ontario Sexual Abuse Cases

On March 9, 2016, Bill 132 Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment) 2015 received Royal Assent which is the last step in making it a law. Bill 132 is the legislative action plan arising from the Government’s report It’s Never Ok: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment. The preamble to Bill 132 states that “The Government will not tolerate sexual violence, sexual harassment or domestic violence. Protecting all Ontarians from their devastating impact is a top Government priority and is essential for the achievement of a fair and equitable society. All Ontarians would benefit from living without the threat and experience of sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence and other forms of abuse, and all Ontarians have a role to play in stopping them.” The Bill amends several laws in an effort to implement this priority. Of interest are the effects it will have on two particular laws: the Limitations Act and The Compensation for Victims of Crime Act.

On January 22, 2016 I was fortunate to be able to speak to the Standing Committee on Social Policy on behalf of OTLA endorsing the change to the legislation in favour of abuse survivors. You can watch the presentation below.

Timelines for suing (i.e., limitation periods), if missed provide a complete defence to a civil lawsuit and puts an end to the case. Limitation periods can present a significant obstacle in many abuse cases because so many claims arising from sexual assault are historical. It often takes survivors decades to come forward. There may be many reasons why sexual abuse survivors do not come forward including misplaced shame, guilt and fear of coming forward or simply a desire to avoid thinking about and confronting the horrendous pain. Over a decade ago, the Province of Ontario introduced the new Limitations Act 2002 which significantly helped with this problem. Although that law created many ways around limitation periods, it still took a lot of time, effort and money to build legal arguments and evidence to overcome potential limitation periods. With Bill 132 this is no longer a concern.

The Limitations Act

Bill 132 amends the Limitations Act 2002 to provide that there are no limitation periods for cases “based on a sexual assault”. There will also be no limitation periods for cases based on “any other misconduct of a sexual nature if, at the time of the misconduct, the person with the claim was a minor or if there is an authority, dependence or trust relationship”. Bill 132 also eliminates limitation periods for cases based on physical assault if, “at the time of the assault, the person with the claim was a minor or if the parties had an intimate relationship or there is a relationship of dependence”. Bill 132 provides that these changes are retroactive and apply whenever the acts occurred and regardless of the expiry of any previous limitation period, unless the case is over because it was settled or finally determined by the Court.

The Compensation for Victims of the Crime Act

The Compensation for Victims of Crime Act establishes the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (“CICB”) and provides for compensation for victims of certain specified types of crimes including sexual offences. Compensation under the Act can be awarded for expenses incurred, financial losses (including income loss) and pain and suffering. The Act sets up a scheme for making an application to the CICB. There does not have to be a criminal conviction against the perpetrator to get compensation from the CICB. The Board can make a lump sum award of up to $25,000.00. The Board can also make awards for periodic payments. Currently under the Compensation for Victims of Crime Act there is a limitation period (time limit) for applying. An application for compensation must be made within two years after the date of the injury but the Board may extend the time.

Bill 132 amended the time limit to provide that there is no limitation period with respect to CICB applications relating to crimes of sexual violence or violence that occurs within a relationship of intimacy or dependency. This change is retroactive and applies to applications commenced before Bill 132 is law unless the case is over and has been finally disposed of by the Board.

The effect of Bill 132 is that there are no longer time limits for abuse survivors in private lawsuits as well as in applications to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. This Bill is a clear message to abuse survivors that their claims are important and should not be stopped simply because it has taken them time to be ready to address the issue legally. It will provide more access to justice for abuse survivors and will mean that survivors no longer have to justify why they took so long to come forward. In an area where there is a lot of self-blame, this is a very important step.

Any enquiries arising out of this article should be directed to Loretta P. Merritt at (416) 777-5404. The issues raised in this release by Torkin Manes LLP are for information purposes only. The comments contained in this document should not be relied upon to replace specific legal advice. Readers should contact professional advisors prior to acting on the basis of material contained herein.

Written by Loretta Merritt

Loretta is one of the few lawyers in Ontario who has substantial experience in dealing with abuse and harassment in civil lawsuits and employment cases. She understands and cares about abuse survivors, recognizing that coming forward, being heard and acknowledged as well as gaining a sense of justice and closure, in addition to the amount of a settlement, are what matter to her clients.