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February 5, 2014

Limitations periods for claims of negligent supervision allowing sexual assaults to occur

Choc v. Hudbay Minerals Inc., [2013] O.J. No. 3375 (S.C.J.) is a case that may be of interest to institutional defendants of sexual assault claims.

In this action the plaintiffs, who are indigenous Mayan Q’eqchi’ from Guatemala, brought three related actions against the Canadian mining company, Hudbay Minerals and its subsidiaries.  The plaintiffs allege that security personnel working for Hudbay’s subsidiaries committed a number of abuses including a shooting, a killing and gang rapes during the forced removal of the plaintiffs from areas claimed as ancestral homelands.    

This decision is in respect of motions brought by the defendants, Hudbay Minerals, HMI Nickel and CGN with respect to three related actions by the plaintiffs.  One motion sought the dismissal of one of the actions on the basis that it was statute-barred by the Limitations Act, 2002, S.O. 2002, c. 24, Sched. B [“Limitations Act”].  The action sought to be dismissed was brought by 11 women who asserted they were each gang-raped by mining company security personnel during their forced removal on January 17, 2007.  The action was not commenced until March 28, 2011, more than 4 years later.

The defendants argue that the basic limitation period, of two years after the day on which the claim is discovered, pursuant to section 4 of the Limitations Act, is applicable.  The defendants contend that the plaintiffs’ claim is not based on assault or sexual assault but is framed in negligence based on the alleged failure of Hudbay to supervise employees and agents of its subsidiaries.  They argue there is no issue of discoverability and the plaintiffs knew of the alleged claims as of January 17, 2007.   

The plaintiffs argue that section 10 of the Limitations Act which provides an exception to the two year limitation period for claims based on an assault or sexual assault is applicable.  If the claim falls within the scope of section 10, then the limitation period will not have started running because the plaintiffs will be presumed to have been incapable of commencing the proceeding, unless the contrary is proven. 

The motions judge held that section 10 was applicable in the circumstances of the case as the claim is based on alleged sexual assaults.  Although the claim was based in negligence for the defendants’ failure to properly supervise and train their personnel, ultimately, without the sexual assault there would not have been a claim.  The sexual assault was “the main ingredient of the cause of action of negligence”.  As such the claim properly fell within the scope of s. 10 of the Limitations Act.

Counsel should be aware that even if a claim is framed in negligence, the standard two year limitation period may not apply.  Rather, the offence giving rise to the action may put the claim into one of the exceptions.

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