Quebec to abolish time limits on civil action in sexual abuse cases

Bill 55, tabled Thursday in Quebec City by Justice Minister Sonia LeBel, will abolish the statute of limitations on bringing civil proceedings against an alleged assailant.

Opposition parties support bill, long sought by victims of childhood abuse

Quebec Justice Minister Sonia Lebel tabled the bill Thursday. Quebec and Prince Edward Island are the only Canadian provinces with time limits on civil proceedings for crimes of this nature. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The Quebec government intends to abolish the statute of limitations on civil proceedings in cases of alleged sexual assault.

Bill 55, tabled in the National Assembly Thursday by Justice Minister Sonia LeBel, will amend Quebec's Civil Code, to allow victims of sexual assault, childhood violence and spousal abuse to sue their alleged assailant, no matter how long ago the assault occurred.

The time limit was three years until 2013, when the Parti Québécois government extended it to 30 years.

Quebecers who were abused decades ago as children by pedophile priests have long sought the abolition of that time limit.

If passed, the bill will allow alleged victims who have sought redress in the past but whose cases were dismissed because the alleged abuse had occurred more than three decades ago to go back before the courts, within three years of the date the bill becomes law.

In addition, the bill says legal actions against "an heir, a legatee by particular title or a successor of the author of the act or against the liquidator of the author's succession" must happen within three years of the death of the alleged assailant. Similarly, civil actions on behalf of a victim who has died "must be instituted within three years of the victim's death."

In cases of childhood abuse, numerous studies and reports have shown that it can be difficult for victims to recall traumatic events experienced a long time ago, and it can take years for a victim to find the strength to come forward.

Opposition parties immediately welcomed the government's initiative, saying they want the bill to pass quickly.

Quebec and Prince Edward Island are the only Canadian provinces with a statute of limitations on civil proceedings for such crimes. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, there is no time limit on criminal charges for sexual assault.

With files from and translation by CBC's John MacFarlane


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