Major Development: Quebec to retroactively abolish limitation periods (prescription) in sexual abuse lawsuits

The minister of justice announces the abolition of prescription as a ground of defence to civil actions claiming damages against religious communities and other organizations.

Montreal, June 4, 2020

The Minister of Justice Sonia Lebel announced the tabling of Bill 55 “An Act to amend the Civil Code, in particular to make civil actions for sexual aggression, violence suffered during childhood and spousal violence imprescriptible”.

This Bill, which is expected to come into force during the month of June 2020, abolishes limitation periods (prescription) for civil actions seeking compensation for bodily injuries sustained by victims of sexual abuse and other forms of violence during childhood.

This is an unprecedented victory for victims, as prescription has always been among the primary obstacles blocking access to justice.

Victims of sexual abuse will no longer have to justify the reasons for not filing a lawsuit earlier nor prove that they were in fact unable to act.

The Minister of Justice has confirmed that this new law will be retroactive, meaning that it will apply to all cases of sexual abuse, regardless of how long it has been since the abuse took place. The Minister of Justice has specifically stated that religious communities and other organizations and businesses will no longer be able to raise prescription as a ground of defence when they are sued for their personal fault or as principals of the individual abusers.

When the Bill is passed, the law will also enable victims whose claims for compensation were previously dismissed solely on the grounds of prescription to re-institute a new legal action claiming damages within three years of the adoption of the Bill.

An exception remains, however, when a civil action is brought against the heir, a legatee by particular title or a successor of the abuser or against the liquidator of the abuser’s succession, in which case the civil action must be instituted at the latest within three years from the death of the abuser, under pain of forfeiture, unless the defendant is sued for the defendant’s own fault or as a principal.

Kugler Kandestin represents thousands of victims claiming compensation for the serious injuries they suffered as a result of sexual abuse. Kugler Kandestin was successful in the first ever sexual abuse class action against a religious order to proceed to a trial on the merits (against The Redemptorists), and the firm is currently handling class actions on behalf of hundreds of victims against the following religious communities:

  • The Brothers of Sacred Heart
  • Servites de Marie of Quebec
  • The Sisters of Charity of Quebec