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Quebec abolishes time limitations in sexual assault lawsuits

Bill 55 will also allow victims to file claims against estates

Members of the Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously last week to pass Bill 55, a new provincial piece of legislation that effectively abolishes statutes of limitations in civil cases involving sexual assaults that were committed decades before being reported or prosecuted in court.

Quebec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel, right, is seen here with Premier François Legault.

Promise kept

The change will henceforth apply to lawsuits involving allegations of sexual assault, sexual assaults against children, as well as spousal violence. Following the bill’s unanimous passage, Quebec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel said the CAQ government had fulfilled one of the key campaign pledges it made before coming to power in October 2018,

“I am extremely proud to have sponsored, on behalf of the government, this draft law which once again placed the interest of victims and their needs at the heart of our actions,” LeBel said.

“We had made a firm commitment to eliminate the statute of limitations obstacle to allow them to obtain redress, at a time when they feel ready to confront the past. A promise kept: supporting victims is a priority for our government.”

Fewer time limits

Before Bill 55 was passed, a statute of limitations applied in these sorts of cases. As a result, many civil suits were automatically considered inadmissible for due legal process. A three-year statute of limitations that had previously been in force was extended to 30 years in 2013 when the Parti Québécois formed the provincial government.

“Taking into account that the victims, because of the particular nature of the crimes against them, may sometimes only become aware many years afterwards of the harm caused by the assault, they will henceforth have all the time they need to put together a court case against the person responsible for that assault,” LeBel’s ministry said in a statement.

Claims against estates

As well, Bill 55 will henceforth allow victims to file damage claims against the estates of individuals who have committed sexual assaults, but who have died, although this must be done within three years of their death.

However, the law draws the line here, stating that damage claims in such circumstances will not be possible against religious orders, businesses or organizations, which cannot be held responsible for acts committed by any of their members or employees who have died since the assault took place.

Apologies possible

The new law will also allow persons accused of sexual assaults to make apologies to their victims, although such an admission will not constitute acknowledgement of culpability in the eyes of the Quebec Civil Code. However, this aspect will be applicable only in civil cases, the Quebec justice ministry points out.

The full text of the new law can be viewed on the Quebec National Assembly’s website: www.assnat.qc.ca, as well as on the Quebec Ministry of Justice’s website: www.justice.gouv.qc.ca.