Justice Delayed is Justice Denied?

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In Canada, police dismiss 1 in 5 sexual assault reports as “unfounded” – meaning they believe the crime didn't happen or there wasn’t enough evidence to investigate. Plus only 20 per cent of the cases that do move to criminal court end up with the abuser in jail. With these kinds of odds, it’s understandable that a survivor would hesitate to come forward with their story. 

But there are alternatives to criminal court that survivors can pursue to seek their rightful justice for the pain they have endured. One way is through civil litigation. With criminal cases, justice typically equals jail time. Civil lawsuits can allow survivors to define “justice served” for themselves.

A civil lawsuit may help cover medical expenses and income lost due to the assault or sexual misconduct, maybe even giving some survivors a sense of closure. Plus, in civil litigation the survivor’s comfort is a top priority – something very different to criminal cases.

If a survivor is involved in a criminal process, they are bound by the investigation’s time limits and extreme evidence requirements; but in civil litigation, there isn’t as strict a clock to work against. This allows a legal team to thoroughly examine the case, assessing each and every opportunity for the survivor to seek justice. It’s about finding solutions that hold the person (and potentially others) accountable for their horrific actions, without causing the survivor further stress. There is no jury deciding the outcome of the case in a public courtroom, and there are boundaries in place to safeguard survivors from seeing their abusers. Discussion is limited as much as possible lawyer-to-lawyer as a legal team would not want a survivor being put in a position where they’re asked to make difficult decisions that could impact their peace of mind.

An advantage of making a civil claim is that, in Ontario, there is no deadline (a.k.a. a statute of limitations) between when the assault or harassment happened and when a survivor comes forward. Even if what happened took place more than 30 years ago, a survivor still has the right to be heard and compensated for their pain. 

"Even if what happened took place more than 30 years ago, a survivor still has the right to justice."

One last thing to know is if the abuser was already found guilty and charged for their crimes, a survivor can still choose to pursue a civil case since this is about their rightful compensation and personal trauma. And because a criminal court already found the person guilty, it’s likely a civil case would have the same positive outcome. 

No matter when a survivor chooses to come forward with their story, it can be a retraumatizing experience. It’s part of a legal team’s role to understand, listen with compassion and reassure the survivor that what happened is deserving of justice. 

Shawn Adamsson