Alberta will end time limit on civil suits for sexual violence

New legislation will end the current two-year limitation on filing lawsuits to recover lost wages or for pain and suffering

EDMONTON – Alberta is changing the rules to give victims of sexual and domestic violence more time to sue their abusers in civil court.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley introduced legislation Tuesday that will end the current two-year time limitation on filing lawsuits to recover lost wages and other expenses or for pain and suffering.

Instead there will be no time limit on filing a lawsuit, and the legislation will be retroactive.

“The decision to come forward is extremely personal and can be very difficult,” Ganley said at a news conference at the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton prior to the introduction of Bill 2.

“Survivors of sexual and domestic violence should be empowered to come forward on their own terms.

“They should not be forced to come forward on the basis of a deadline imposed by the legal system.”

The new rules will apply to sexual assault, sexual misconduct, as well as assault on children, dependents and partners. Sexual misconduct includes stalking or sending inappropriate text messages or photos.

The former two-year limitation normally begins when the assault occurs.

Debra Tomlinson, chief executive officer of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, said the civil action will a “help lift that veil of silence” on violence.

“It gives survivors the time they need to recover and heal from the effects of sexual assault trauma,” said Tomlinson.

The civil process is independent of the judicial one. In a civil case, a judge rules on the balance of probabilities rather than on guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Ganley said Alberta is the first jurisdiction to exempt sexual misconduct lawsuits from the time limit. Changes to the time limit on sexual assault will bring Alberta in line with most of the rest of Canada, she added.

Mary Jane James, executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, said civil action is a vital option given the high standard set in the criminal system.

“Because the burden of proof is so high in the criminal justice system, a very small fraction of (assault) survivors will ever see the inside of a courtroom,” said James.

“For survivors to be able to pursue a civil claim at a time when they are ready to do so and where the burden of proof is significantly less onerous is a change that is truly representative of a government that gets it.

“When survivors are believed, listened to, and supported they can reclaim the life they had before the assault, a life that they most definitely deserve to have again.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.