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Canada When will Quebec lift 'cruel' time limits on sex assault suits?

16:40  14 january  2020
16:40  14 january  2020 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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a man in a striped shirt: Michel Deguire says he was sexually abused by a man helping out with his youth orchestra in Town of Mount Royal. His alleged abuser is now 91.© Allen McInnis Michel Deguire says he was sexually abused by a man helping out with his youth orchestra in Town of Mount Royal. His alleged abuser is now 91.

In early 2019, Quebec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel’s office invited Sébastien Richard to Quebec City to discuss how being sexually assaulted as a boy had altered his life.

An outspoken advocate for sex abuse victims, Richard believed it was a sign Quebec would finally act on a longstanding request: to abolish the time limit, or prescription period, for civil suits related to sexual assault.

But the year came and went, and though there were positive steps — the National Assembly twice adopted unanimous motions on the issue — Richard is now staring down another year of calling for a change he and many others consider long overdue .

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This time limit applies to most crimes, with the exception of rape, robbery (with aggravating circumstances) Since more than 20 years had passed since the assaults had allegedly occurred Following this, seven of the eight filed an application to have the time limit on prosecuting sexual

“I want to believe we’ll see a bill passed in 2020, I really do,” Richard, 56, said in an interview. “But at this point, we’ve been waiting for so long I’ll only believe it when I see it.”

There is no statute of limitations in Quebec when it comes to sexual assault cases in criminal court.

But Quebec remains one of the only provinces to still have time limits for civil cases. For someone to try to seek damages from an abuser in civil court, the timing matters.

Before 2013, the limit was three years. It was then increased to 30 years.

But how that timeframe is calculated remains complicated. Per Quebec’s civil code, the time begins counting down once the person realizes the harm they’ve suffered is due to the assault. If the person is a minor at the time they become aware, the window to take action begins when they turn 18.

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After a sexual assault or rape, victims are often subjected to scrutiny and, in some cases, mistreatment. Victims undergo medical examinations and are interviewed by police. If there is a criminal trial, victims suffer a loss of privacy and their credibility may be challenged.

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The victim also has the option of proving that, despite being aware of the harm, they were unable to act on it. Taken together, the clauses often result in difficult cross-examinations in court, with victims needing to explain themselves in detail to prove what stopped them from coming forward.

And since the 2013 change in the law is not retroactive, when the person is able to finally come forward becomes pivotal in many cases, establishing whether the victim benefits from the three-year or 30-year period.

Critics have long argued it’s too convoluted a system for victims to navigate and often serves as a deterrent to seeking civil action.

“That’s the cruelty of prescription periods,” Richard said. “On top of living through a sexual assault, they’re now told by society, and by our laws, that there is no way for them to obtain justice.”

Abused as a child at Collège Notre-Dame in Montreal, Richard was one of 206 victims to be compensated in 2013 following a class-action suit against the Congregation of Holy Cross.

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The congregation had attempted to argue the victims’ cases were all over the time limit, but ended up renouncing the argument after negotiations. The suit ended in an out-of-court settlement totalling $18 million .

On average, victims involved in the class action waited 43 years before coming forward. It’s for this reason Richard argues the limits need to be abolished: even though the new 30-year limit may seem like plenty of time, research shows it isn’t unusual for victims to wait much longer.

When Richard went to Quebec City at the beginning of last year, he was accompanied by fellow abuse survivor Michel Deguire.

Deguire, 72, says he was 12 when he was sexually abused by a man helping out with his youth orchestra in Town of Mount Royal.

After meeting with a therapist in 2009, Deguire finally spoke out about what had been done to him nearly 50 years before.

The Crown laid criminal charges against his alleged abuser in 2011, but the case fell apart after the preliminary hearing. When Deguire then met with lawyers to weigh his options in civil court, he was told he was too late. He remembers the feeling of hopelessness that washed over him.

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“Having a time limit for victims of sexual assault to prosecute is a disgrace to Quebec ,” said Bellemare, a former Quebec justice minister. He and Arsenault said Quebec and Prince Edward Island are the only provinces that still have a limit . The three opposition parties represented in the legislature

“The vast majority of campus sexual assault cases involve a lot of alcohol and no witnesses, so you essentially have two people who were probably But Cari Simon, a Washington lawyer who represents sexual assault victims, said that colleges could use mediation to avoid addressing serious accusations.

His alleged abuser is now 91 years old. Deguire feels like time is running out.

“It’s been disappointing,” he said of the government’s inaction on the issue. “But I’m not giving up.”

In February 2019, Parti Québécois MNA Véronique Hivon presented a motion calling for the end of prescription periods in matters of sexual assault. It passed unanimously.

Then, in October, Hivon presented another motion that gained unanimous approval, this time calling on the government to act on the issue by June 2020.

The motion stated that two bills that would end the time limits have already been presented before the National Assembly.

The first was from the Coalition Avenir Québec’s Simon Jolin-Barrette in 2016, the second by Québec Solidaire MNA Christine Labrie in June.

Support has also come from elsewhere: in 2017, Quebec Ombudsman’s office called for an end to time limits in any cases of sexual assault, violence against children and conjugal violence.

The office was unequivocal, recommending anyone who had their case thrown out because they didn’t meet the time-limit requirement be given a five-year period to reopen it.

“If there is one field where the time factor should be abolished,” Ombudsperson Marie Rinfret said in a statement at the time , “it is in this specific context, where suffering extends over time and often freezes the ability to bounce back.”

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In an email response, Nicky Cayer, a spokesperson for LeBel’s office, said the government considers the issue to be a priority.

Calling the time limit a barrier that needs to be broken down, Cayer said an “important” bill is in the works. But given its long-reaching legal and social consequences, she added, the issue requires rigorous studying.

“The CAQ has made a commitment to abolishing the limitation period for civil suits related to sexual assault,” Cayer wrote. “We will meet our commitment.”

jfeith@postmedia.com

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