Sexual assault is a very serious crime in Canada. Whether you are a victim of an alleged sexual assault or have been accused of this offence, understanding the legal framework around it is essential to ensuring that justice is administered correctly, and your rights are protected. One aspect of this framework is the statute of limitations, which we discuss in detail below.
Sexual Assault Laws in Canada
Sexual assault is defined broadly in the Criminal Code of Canada (the “Code”) to cover any form of non-consensual sexual contact, including unwanted touching, kissing, or groping, as well as more serious acts of sexual violence.
The concept of consent is central to the definition of sexual assault in Canadian law. Consent to sexual contact must be freely given (i.e., not through coercion, threats, or deception) and must be given on an ongoing basis. A person cannot consent if they are incapable of understanding the nature of the act, such as when they are intoxicated or unconscious. The Code also includes other offences related to sexual violence, such as sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, and sexual interference with a minor.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a time limit within which a criminal case must be initiated. This time limit aims to ensure that cases are brought in a timely manner for the benefit of both the victim and the accused. It is advantageous to begin these cases as quickly as possible so that evidence can be collected before it degrades and while memories of the events are still relatively fresh. However, circumstances often prevent criminal cases from being brought until many years after the assault.
Statute of Limitations on Sexual Assault in Canada
There is no statute of limitations to charge someone with sexual assault in Canada. This means a victim can make a criminal complaint at any point in their lifetime.
For civil action, the statute of limitations is called the limitation period. Limitation periods are determined by each province or territory individually. In the past, the limitation period for sexual assault-related civil action was between one and six years, depending on the province or territory. However, these limits have largely been eliminated, meaning that a victim can initiate a lawsuit at any time, as long as the assault would have been considered a crime at the time it occurred. If the alleged assailant passes away in the intervening time, the victim can still take civil action against that person’s estate.
It is important to note that a victim can use both approaches: making a criminal complaint as well as taking civil action.
Implications of the Statute of Limitations for Victims
The absence of a statute of limitations for sexual assault has several implications for victims:
- Greater opportunity for justice to be done. Victims can pursue criminal charges against their assailants regardless of when the offence occurred. This is particularly important because many victims delay reporting the crime due to factors such as shame, trauma, psychological suppression of the event, or fear that they will not be believed if they come forward. The lack of a statute of limitations acknowledges that reporting can be delayed and offers victims the chance to seek justice when they are emotionally and physically ready to do so.
- This may encourage more survivors to report the crime, even if they initially hesitated. This can potentially increase reporting rates and help bring more perpetrators to justice.
- It has a deterrent effect on potential offenders, as they know they could be held accountable for their actions at any time.
- Allows for greater healing and closure. The lack of a statute of limitations offers survivors the opportunity to seek closure and justice on their own terms without being restricted by time constraints.
- Additional difficulties in prosecuting the case: If a great deal of time has passed, it may be more difficult to locate witnesses and secure evidence. Any evidence that was collected at the time may also have become degraded, damaged, or lost.
Implications of the Statute of Limitations for Alleged Perpetrators
The absence of a statute of limitations also has several implications for alleged perpetrators:
- Ongoing risk of prosecution: Individuals accused of sexual assault face the ongoing risk of being charged and prosecuted for the offence, even if it occurred decades in the past. That said, the alleged perpetrator would be charged under the laws that were in effect at the time the assault is alleged to have occurred, although current procedures for prosecuting and trying the case would still apply. For instance, the treatment of victims, the rules of evidence, and any legal protections for the accused would follow present-day norms.
- Additional difficulty in presenting a defence: Similar to the challenges it poses for the Crown, the passage of time can make it challenging for the accused person to gather evidence and mount a defence.
- Greater potential personal and professional impact: The accused person will be older and will likely be more established in their career; they will have a more difficult time getting life to return to normal, even if they are exonerated. A younger person would have more time than an older one to restore their reputation and rebuild their career.
The Bottom Line
The elimination of a statute of limitations on sexual assault is intended to benefit victims. However, it is important to recognize that people who are accused of this serious crime are still entitled to a fair trial, legal representation, and the presumption of innocence.
Criminal defense lawyers are dedicated to ensuring that the rights of accused persons are met. If you have been accused of sexual assault, retain a lawyer with expertise in the area as soon as possible. You may have solid proof of your innocence, but the most effective way to present this proof is through a qualified sexual assault lawyer. Your lawyer will evaluate your case and devise the best strategy for getting justice for you. The team at Zamani Law has the experience and the legal know-how to guide you through your case successfully. With intimate knowledge of the applicable laws, the court system in Ontario, and the most means of fighting sexual assault charges, we will mount a defence that covers all the bases. Contact us today for a free consultation.