Edmonton

Changes to Alberta's limitations law paved way for historical sex assault lawsuit, lawyer says

A man who claims he was sexually abused by an Edmonton priest more than 30 years ago was able to file a lawsuit because of a recent change to Alberta's limitations law, says the lawyer representing the plaintiff.

Removal of time limit to sue attackers allowed alleged victims of Gordon William Dominey to file civil suit

Gordon William Dominey in the 1980s (left), and in 2016. (Supplied)

A man who claims he was sexually abused by an Edmonton priest more than 30 years ago was able to file a lawsuit because of a recent change to Alberta's limitations law, says the lawyer representing the plaintiff.

The lawsuit against the Province of Alberta, the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton and Gordon William Dominey alleges the priest repeatedly sexually abused the plaintiff and at least nine other teens at the Edmonton Youth Development Centre in the 1980s.

In February 2016, Dominey was charged with five counts of sexual assault and five counts of gross indecency in relation to the alleged assaults. Dominey now faces more than 30 sexual assault and gross indecency charges, after more alleged victims came forward.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, whose name is protected by a publication ban, is seeking to have it certified as a class action.

Prior to May 2017, filing a civil suit for alleged sexual assaults that occurred more than 30 years ago would not have been possible, said Avnish Nanda, a lawyer representing the plaintiff. The timeframe for a sexual assault survivor to file a civil claim against their attacker was two years.

Legislation passed in May removed that time limit.

"This is one of the first lawsuits that has been filed in Alberta with the changes to the Limitations Act that allows survivors of sexual abuse to bring lawsuits at any time," Nanda told CBC's Edmonton AM.

It provides a lot of encouragement to ... survivors of sexual abuse who have not yet come forward.- Avnish Nanda, lawyer

"These changes put Alberta in line with other jurisdictions, like B.C. and Ontario, and adapt a more workable and realistic timeline for these losses to be brought [forward]. I think it provides a lot of encouragement to ... survivors of sexual abuse who have not yet come forward, that there are options for them to hold the perpetrators accountable after so long."

For survivors of sexual assault, it can take years to come to terms with what happened. It takes time for a survivor to process the event and consider speaking out about it, Nanda said.

"Arbitrary deadlines around when to bring a lawsuit and things like that don't work," he said.

Civil process a way for survivors to heal

Nanda said many individuals who claim to be victims of Dominey are now in their 30s or 40s, and never spoke about the alleged attacks with family or friends. 

One alleged victim decided to speak out about his experience after seeing Dominey's face on TV two years ago, when criminal charges were first laid against the priest, Nanda said.

There are several reasons why survivors might choose to file a civil lawsuit, he said.

The criminal justice process is meant to repair damage to society, he said. The civil process is a way for survivors of criminal offences to, in a sense, begin to repair the damage an alleged criminal act has caused them.

"For survivors, victims of criminal offences, the civil process is what's there for them to make themselves whole from what happened," Nanda said.

"At the end of a civil process, an individual is usually personally compensated for the harms they've suffered in order for them to continue on ... with their lives."

About the Author

Andrea Ross is a journalist with CBC Vancouver. andrea.ross@cbc.ca Twitter: @_rossandrea