Affecting not only the alleged victims but often the accused’s lives as well, sexual assault is a serious offence, but there are many misconceptions about it.
If you are wondering about the statute of limitations on sexual assault cases in Canada, we’ve got everything covered right here. We’ll shed light on what statutes of limitation apply to the crime and their legal ramifications.
The Nature of Sexual Assault Offences
There are three types of criminal charges under Canadian law: summary, indictable, and hybrid offences. Summary offences are the least serious ones, punishable with a fine or a short period of incarceration.
Indictable offences are the most serious crimes, punishable with several years to life in prison, while hybrid ones fall somewhere in between and can be handled as either a summary or indictable offence, depending on the circumstances.
Unlike many other assault cases, which can be either a hybrid or indictable offence, sexual assault charges are always considered an indictable offence.
Statues of Limitation on Sexual Assault Charges
The statute of limitation means there is a limited timeframe within which the crime must be reported, charged, and, if necessary, prosecuted. The statutes of limitation exist so people can move on with their lives without having to face criminal charges for something they committed 20 years ago. Even for some indictable offences, the statute of limitations is five years.
There are, however, some cases when the standard statutes of limitation don’t apply, and sexual assault cases happen to be one of them. Prior to 2016, there was a limitation period for reporting and commencing a lawsuit in sexual assault cases.
The limitation was voided if the accused was in a position of authority or trust over the accuser at the time of the assault. However, in 2016, Bill 132, known as the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, was introduced, amending the Limitations Act.
This amendment removed limitation periods on sexual assault cases. While the law encourages victims to report sexual assault crimes as soon as they happen, it also recognizes that they do not always feel ready to come forward after this traumatic event and may need time to recover before confronting the perpetrator.
If you are arrested for such an offence, it’s important to stay calm. It doesn’t matter how long ago the alleged crime was committed, but the longer it has been, the weaker any evidence is likely to be. It’s important to get an expert criminal defence lawyer to guide you through the next steps.
Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault on Minors
As mentioned previously, Canadian law doesn’t provide a statute of limitations for any sexual assault crimes or claims for damages as a result of these offences. However, this doesn’t mean that the charges will be brought on, especially if the crime happened over five years ago.
This is simply because sexual assault cases are notoriously hard to prove and prosecute. But as with general sexual assault charges, for the offence of sexual assault against children, there is no limitation period, even if the crime happened many years ago. The perpetrator can be charged and prosecuted at any time.
Notable Point About Statute of Limitations in Canada
There are a few important things to note about the statute of limitations or the lack thereof in Canada. One of these is if the alleged perpetrator dies before they can be brought to justice. If the alleged abuser dies, they can’t be charged with the crime, even if there are no statutes of limitation barring the alleged victim from reporting it.
Because sexual assault crimes can be hard to prove and prosecute, the police might not press charges if the crime happened more than five years ago (as is the limitation for indictable offences) and there isn’t any corroborating evidence that would support the claims.
However, there are times when a case over five years old may be given greater scrutiny. One example is in the case of minors, who, under Canadian law, can’t take any form of legal action, either in civil or criminal cases.
Many children who are sexually abused at a young age come forward only when they become adults. In this case, the criminal charges will be laid to the alleged abuser whenever they decide to report the crime.
In a similar way, there may be an instance where the alleged victim has a mental or physical disability which prevented them from taking legal action at the time of the abuse. Their legal guardian can bring up the charges, and the accused can be prosecuted at any time after the crime has occurred.
While Canada, in general, does not have a legal time limit to report and prosecute sexual assault cases (known as the statute of limitations), this doesn’t mean the accused will be automatically charged with a sexual assault crime.
Lack of evidence may prevent the authorities from proceeding with the charges, in which case, the victim can still file a civil lawsuit and seek compensatory damages.
Either way, it’s vital to get expert legal help should you be accused of a serious crime. If you’re in need of legal representation, AGP LLP can help. Contact us today, and we’ll be happy to arrange a consultation to advise you on the case.