December 19, 2017

Facilitate recourses against an aggressor


Jeune fille qui repousse un agresseurDespite progress, it is still difficult for victims to report the perpetrator of a sexual assault or violent acts. 

This is why the Québec Ombudsman recommends easing the legal procedures. Very recently, opinion (French version only) was published, proposing to abolish any time limit (prescription) for civil actions in case of sexual assault, violence during childhood, or violence by a spouse or an ex-spouse.

Currently, a person in this situation who wants to file a suit against her aggressor to obtain financial compensation must do so within 30 years. The article of the Civil Code of Québec that specifies this time limit has been in force since May 23, 2013, without retroactive effect. Previously, the time limit was 3 years.

But is a 30-year time limit enough? Not necessarily, if we account for the fact that some victims take many years to realize the assault they suffered is the source of their suffering. Not counting the fact that some, among those most deeply marked by the events, hesitate a long time before facing court proceedings and the aggressor.

A complicated calculation

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, these calculations and the difficulty of proving the impossibility of acting at the time of awareness of harm related to the assault may hinder many people, and certainly the most vulnerable, when filing civil actions. The Québec Ombudsman therefore recommends:

  • to abolish any prescription period (the 30 years) for this type of case;
  • to make the law retroactive without time limits.

The Québec Ombudsman's opinion can be viewed online.