Limitation periods for sex assault eliminated in N.S., Ontario next

Legislative amendments recently introduced in Nova Scotia have now received first reading in that province’s legislature. These changes will allow victims of historical sexual assaults who were previously barred from suing because of expired limitation periods to file lawsuits for compensation.

Toronto lawyer Elizabeth Grace explains that the Nova Scotia changes “amount to a retroactive revival of abuse victims’ right to sue.” Grace adds, “These are bold changes in the law that reflect our society’s increasing awareness and intolerance of sexual assault and the pervasive damage it causes.”

The Nova Scotia changes are in line with Ontario’s new sex assault and harassment action plan, called “It’s Never Okay,” recently announced by Premier Kathleen Wynne. This plan pledges to remove all limitation periods for civil sexual assault claims arising in Ontario, and also to eliminate the present two-year limit for victims of sexual offences who apply to Ontario’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for compensation.

In Nova Scotia, Justice Minister Lena Metlege Diab announced the amendments to the Limitation of Actions Act, which give victims of sexual assault the ability to launch civil lawsuits against their abusers regardless of when the offence took place, reports the Canadian Press.

Similar changes are expected in Ontario this fall, as the province’s new $41-million strategy to combat sexual violence and harassment takes shape.

“Ontario’s limitations statute already allows for some retroactive revival of expired claims based on sexual assault,” but, says Grace, “there are restrictions on when this revival can occur.”

Ontario’s legislation also already provides that there is no limitation period for more contemporary sexual assaults whose survivors now wish to sue, but Grace notes that “unlike Nova Scotia, Ontario puts constraints on when this ‘no limitation period’ situationwill apply.”

Essentially, it is only where the assault occurred in what Grace calls a “power-dependency relationship of inequality.” In other situations, such as where the assailant and victim are strangers to one another, Grace says that after two years has passed, a defendant may be able to lead evidence to rebut the legislative presumption of incapacity to sue sooner. If this happens, the lawsuit can be dismissed as time-barred.

Ontario’s new plan was drafted in response to high-profile incidents that remain under investigation, including sexual assault allegations against members of the University of Ottawa hockey team, Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby, reports the National Post. The plan is complex and targets everywhere from university campuses to workplaces and hospital rooms, says the Post.

The money will fund sexual assault support services, public-awareness campaigns, and kick-off a pilot project to offer victims of sexual violence free legal advice, the newspaper reports. Premier Wynne pledged legislation this fall after further consultation, reports the Post, noting it will amend existing workplace-harassment law, remove statutory limits for civil sexual assault cases and change tenancy law to allow victims of domestic violence or sexual assault to break leases with less than 60 days notice.

“We have yet to see how far Ontario’s legislative amendments go,” says Grace. “But if the Ontario government follows through on its far-reaching pledges, there should be tangible and measurable improvements in how all our legal processes – criminal, civil and administrative – respond to the chronic problem of sexual abuse and violence in our society.”

Grace adds, “If these changes make it even a little easier for those who have suffered sexual assault to come forward, be heard, and be vindicated, then Ontario, like Nova Scotia, is to be applauded for its law reform initiatives.”

This article originally appeared on AdvocatedDaily.com
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