Bill could allow unlimited time for assault civil claims
Thursday, Mar 16, 2017 06:00 am
Victims of sexual and domestic assault could have unlimited time to submit a civil claim if a bill introduced by Premier Rachel Notley’s government is passed.
The provincial government announced the tabling of Bill 2: An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence, March 7 in the provincial legislature.
“By eliminating limitation periods, we are making space for survivors of sexual and domestic violence to come forward when they are ready,” said Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kathleen Granley. “We respect the time it may take to do this. If passed, Bill 2 will improve the lives of these Albertans.”
Previously, victims were required to bring forward a civil claim within two years from the offence.
The bill received first reading in the provincial legislature March 7. Second reading was adjourned March 9.
Bill 2 would remove limitation periods for three types of crimes: sexual assault, sexual misconduct involving a minor, intimate relationship or dependant and non-sexual assault involving a minor, intimate relationship or dependant.
According to a release issued by the province, the inclusion of crimes that occur within intimate relationships would be unique to Alberta in Canada.
Dani Polsom, 31, an Airdrie resident and alleged victim of years of sexual assault, said she thought this was a good decision.
“I think it’s good because everybody needs to fight their battles differently,” she said. “After my (criminal) case fell through, we were going to launch a civil suit but because it had been so long we weren’t sure how it would end up and I didn’t want to go through (it being thrown) out again.”
In 2009, Polsom first reported sexual assault she said took place from when she was nine through 17. The accused was arrested and charged with sexual assault, sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching and sexual exploitation – six years after the alleged abuse ended.
In October 2012, due to court delays, the trial was thrown out resulting in an internal review by Alberta Justice. Included in the review – Injecting a Sense of Urgency – released in April 2013, were 17 recommendations to help make sure all cases involving serious and violent crimes reach trial. However, after a flurry of activity by the then Progressive Conservative provincial government, implementation of those recommendations largely fell to the wayside.
One of the recommendations – to introduce a triage system to evaluate cases and prioritize the most serious and violent – was finally put in place by the NDP government in October 2016.
Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt said the triage system is an imperfect solution to a difficult situation.
“If a case looks like it’s going to be too difficult to prosecute or it’s going to take too long, (prosecutors) are told, don’t prosecute it. If you made it past the (triage) stage, you could make it to the court stage but then they’ll decide they’re probably not going to get a conviction. The problem with sexual assault cases is they’re always difficult and messy,” she said. “We’re not going to prosecute them anymore?”
Pitt said MLAs have been assured by the government the removal of limitations on filing a civil suit would not clog up the courts.
“They’ve done similar legislation in other provinces and there hasn’t been a large increase in the amount of people filing civil claims,” she said.
The NDP announced March 9 it would be hiring an additional 35 crown prosecutors and 30 support staff. The province is currently recruiting an additional 15 crown prosecutors. Once all positions have been filled, Alberta will have a total of 360 crown prosecutors, up from the current 310.
Polsom said she wasn’t sure if she would pursue a civil suit against her abuser, in part because she doesn’t currently know where he is.
“I think a lot of us hope that we’re going to see some sort of actual justice from it – them doing time rather than just losing a paycheque. For me, it was more hoping that he’d have to go through the whole jail process,” she said.
“Every day in jail not knowing what’s going to happen to you and not knowing what’s going on – sort of like what (survivors) go through every day in our lives when we’re dealing with the abuse.”