Abolish any time limit for civil actions in case of sexual assault, violence during childhood, or violence by a spouse or an ex-spouse
Québec City, December 19, 2017 – The Québec Ombudsman releases an opinion (French version only) on the necessity of eliminating any prescription period (period after which a person may no longer institute proceedings) for civil actions in case of sexual assault, violence suffered during childhood, or violence by a spouse or an ex-spouse.
Since May 23, 2013, a person may institute a civil action against his or her aggressor within 30 years. Previously, this time limit was 3 years.
The Civil Code of Québec provides that the calculation of the prescription period begins on the date when the person becomes aware that the harm he or she has suffered can be attributed to the assault or the act of violence. This having been said, the beginning of the 30-day calculation period may also be suspended and begin well after the date of this awareness, in the following cases:
- if the victim was a minor at the time he or she became aware of the harm, the calculation of the period will begin only on the victim's 18th birthday;
- if the victim, regardless of age, can prove it was impossible for him or her to act despite this awareness.
Clearly, the complexity of calculating the prescription period and the difficulty of proving the impossibility of acting at the time of awareness of harm related to such an assault may hinder many people from filing an action. It is also recognized that the majority of victims of abuse and violence have difficulty reporting their aggressor and recognizing the link between the act committed and the aftereffects that stay with them.
If there is one field where the time factor should be abolished, it is in this specific context, where suffering extends over time and often freezes the ability to bounce back, Ombudsperson Marie Rinfret emphasizes. This is why our justice procedures should send a clear message affirming that sexual assault, conjugal violence and violence against children are unacceptable and that the victims may be heard, regardless of the time when they exercise the remedies available to them.
We should remember that, in the performance of its mandate, the Québec Ombudsman is called on to pay special attention to the most vulnerable individuals in their relations with public services, including the structures of the justice system. This is the context in which it wrote this opinion.
The 4 recommendations of the Québec Ombudsman's opinion mainly seek:
- the abolition of any prescription period for this type of action;
- the establishment of retroactivity without any time limit.
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