L’ORATOIRE SAINT JOSEPH DU MONT ROYAL v. J.J., 2019 SCC 35

Quebec’s three-year time limit to sue if the abuser or victim died not applicable to file a class action against third parties for their failure to prevent the abuse.

JJ claimed that he had been sexually abused by his teacher and priest in the 1950s. It was claimed that the teacher had abused him at school and the priest had abused him at the Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal where JJ was an altar boy. The teacher and the priest were members of the Congrégation de Sainte – Croix. Eventually, the teacher passed away in 2004 and the priest passed away in 2001. Due to personal reasons and trauma, JJ had refrained from disclosing this fact for decades. With continuous nightmares and flashbacks for years, he decided to file a class action suit in Quebec in 2013, with a belief that there existed other victims like him.

A class action law suit is a lawsuit where people with the same kind of problem come together and sue. A judge provides for permission to authorize a class action after it meets the required conditions laid down. The facts are presumed to be true unless known to be clearly wrong or unlikely. Each class action suit has a representative plaintiff which seeks permission to launch the suit in court and represents the entire group. In this case, JJ was the representative plaintiff.

JJ claimed that the Congrégation and the Oratoire were responsible for the acts committed by the teacher and priest respectively. They were or shown have known of the acts undertaken by teacher and priest. JJ accused them of having known about the abuse and instead of forbidding them, they covered the acts. JJ was of the view that since the authorities had assigned the priest and teacher to work with children, they were obligated to take care.

In contention to this, the Congrégation and Oratoire stated that the class action should not be admitted. The others involved were not having similar issues as they were abused in different localities. They further put forth that JJ waited for too long wherein the respective accused had passed away. It was contented that JJ was unable to provide sufficient evidence and Oratorie shunned its responsibility with the fact that it could not be held liable just because the abuse might have happened on its property.

The judge was of the opinion that the class action could not proceed as stated by the Congrégation and Oratorie. Contrary to this, the Court of Appeal disagreed and unanimously allowed the class action to proceed. All the judges of the Supreme Court viewed that it was not too late for JJ to sue. It was highlighted that though Quebec had a new three-year time limit to sue if the abuser or victim died, it was not applicable to third parties (Congrégation and Oratorie). The time limit applied only against abuser’s succession or by victim’s succession after their death. Death of the abusers, did not bar JJ from suing Congrégation and Oratorie for their own failure and neglect to prevent the abuse.

Majority judges opined that the time limit started when the victim realized the abuse was responsible for their injury; be it years after the abuser’s death. Emphasis was laid on the fact that amendments to the law were for the betterment of victims seeking justice. The majority stated that the class action could move forward due to similarity of issues. It was further highlighted that they were not being sued because of the location of assaults but because of the close nexus between the Congrégation and its members who failed to prevent the abuse. Although, it did not indicate that JJ won the dispute. It was just stated that the class action suits shall move forward and the court shall hear arguments thereby passing a decision.