New bill removes 2-year limit for victims to sue attackers

Sexual assault survivors will no longer face a two-year deadline if they choose to file civil claims against their attackers, if a proposed bill is passed by the Alberta Legislature.

Bill 2, An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence, was introduced Tuesday by Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley.

For survivors of sexual assault and sexual misconduct who wish to sue their attackers, the bill removes the two-year deadline that is the standard for civil actions.

The bill also goes beyond what other provinces have enacted by eliminating that deadline for people who are victims of family violence, including children and dependents.

If passed, the measures in the bill will be retroactive. 

Victims may often be too traumatized by the assault to file a claim within two years, said Elizabeth Halpin, who says she was sexually assaulted in 2012.

"The removal of this limitation period means that survivors can approach civil lawsuits with some time and clarity after the worst is over," she said. "They no longer have to sacrifice their mental health in order to pursue justice."

In civil actions, the burden of proof differs from what is required in a criminal matter — a balance of probabilities as opposed to beyond reasonable doubt.

Victims can sue for damages to cover pain and suffering, lost time at work and the cost of counselling.

Halpin said police decided not to lay charges in her case after an 18-month investigation.

After receiving this devastating news, she said it took her another year to be well enough to resume her life.

By then she learned the deadline had passed to file a civil action against her attacker.

"It felt like another door had been slammed in my face," Halpin said.

Halpin says some victims are too traumatized to file a civil suit right away. Some are still dependent on their attackers or are too young to know how to get help.

Wildrose justice critic Angela Pitt said it is a good idea to remove some the barriers victims face in getting justice. 

"Right now, (the bill) seems like a really positive step in the right direction," she said.