Supreme Court of Canada Sends Time Limits Case Back to Court

by John McKiggan

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled today on Christensen v. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Québec, an important case out of the province of Quebec that addresses the rights of sexual abuse survivors in that province to pursue compensation for their injuries.

Quebec has the shortest statute of limitation (time limit) in Canada for filing sexual abuse compensation claims. In Quebec, if sexual abuse survivors wish to pursue a compensation claim, they must sue their abuser (or the abuser’s employer) within three years of the sexual assault!!

In other words, if a child is sexually abused when they are 7 years old, they must file a claim before they turn 11 years of age. Does that sound crazy?

Takes Time to Discover Effects of Abuse

Courts in every other province Canada have recognized that survivors of childhood sexual abuse may not realize they have a potential claim until much later in life. The so called “discoverability rule” has been applied by courts in every province in Canada. The discoverability rule has also been enshrined in provincial legislation.

For more information you can read one of my earlier posts: Statute of Limitations in Sexual Abuse Claims: Supreme Court of Canada

Hope For Survivors in Quebec

Those of us that advocate for sexual abuse survivors had hoped that the Supreme Court would address the unfair situation in Quebec. But it appears they have avoided making a decision on the issue.

The SCC’s decision was released this morning.

Catholic priest Paul-Henri Lachance pleaded guilty last year to sexually abusing a girl in 1980 when she was seven years old. Lachance was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The archdiocese of Quebec asked the victims parents to keep the incident quiet, telling them that the church would take charge.

Lachance’s victim filed a lawsuit against Lachance and the Archdiocese seeking compensation. The Church defended the claim on the basis that she should have filed her lawsuit in 1983 when she was ten years old.

The Church was successful in Que civil court, in having the lawsuit dismissed. The Quebec Court of Appeal upheld the dimissal.

Today the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that there wasn’t enough evidence presented to the court at the trial level to properly determine when the time limit for filing a claim started to run. The SCC sent the case back to the trial judge.

The entire text of the judgement reads as follows:

This appeal raises the issue of prescription in a case involving a sexual assault that occurred more than 25 years before an action in civil liability was filed. The respondents filed motions to dismiss the action on the ground that it was prescribed. The Quebec Superior Court granted their motions and dismissed the action. A majority of the Court of Appeal affirmed that judgment, but for different reasons (2009 QCCA 1349, [2009] R.J.Q. 1970). We agree with the dissenting reasons of Chamberland J.A.

The issue of the point at which prescription started to run raised questions of fact that could not be resolved on the face of the record. The trial judge will have to assess the evidence to determine whether, on the facts, inferences can be drawn that establish either that prescription did not start to run until 2006 or, possibly, that it was suspended in the circumstances of this case.

For these reasons, the appeal is allowed and the case is remanded to the Superior Court, with costs throughout.

Another Chance at Justice

So Lachance’s victim has another chance to convince the court that she is entitled to fairness, accountability and justice. Abuse survivors across the province of Quebec, and Canada, are watching.

For almost twenty years I have dedicated my practice to representing survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I wrote The Survivor’s Guide to Abuse Compensation Claims to help educate abuse survivors about their legal rights.

As a public service I have prepared a resource guide for survivors of sexual abuse in Atlantic Canada. You can get a free copy of my book or the resource guide by contacting me through this blog, or my website at or by calling toll free in Atlantic Canada 1-877-423-2050.

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