Victims of crime may need some time to realize the seriousness of what happened to them. It isn’t always easy to come forward. The time limit to act depends on the type of legal action (criminal or civil) involved, as well as the kind of harm the victim suffered.
When a crime is committed, the victim is usually the person most affected by the crime. The victim may have suffered physical injury, psychological injury or property damage. In some cases, the victim’s immediate family could be considered victims as well. In others, people who intervene to prevent a crime or to arrest the offender could also be considered victims.
Depending on the circumstances, the victim’s loved ones may also be considered victims.
Filing a criminal complaint
No matter what type of crime was committed, it can be reported to the police at any time. There is no time limit. The victim or any person with knowledge of the crime can report it.
The police will then investigate. If they gather enough evidence, the case will be sent to the criminal and penal prosecuting attorney (also called the “crown prosecutor”). The prosecutor will decide whether to formally charge the suspect with a crime. Therefore, a person can face criminal charges many years after the events took place.
The prosecutor isn’t the victim’s lawyer. But the victim has rights throughout the entire process, such as the right to be heard and to be informed of the progress of the legal proceedings. Victims must also be treated with respect for their dignity and privacy.
An accused who is found guilty might receive a prison sentence or be ordered to pay a fine or to respect certain conditions.
Suing for compensation in a civil lawsuit
Victims can also sue, in a civil lawsuit, the person who committed the acts in question. The victim can ask for money to compensate them for the harm suffered.
A civil lawsuit is possible even if no criminal complaint was ever filed. This is because civil cases and criminal cases are two separate processes. Even if a person was found not guilty in a criminal trial, the victim can still sue them in a civil action.
However, the victim must respect certain time limits for filing a civil lawsuit. The time limits depend on the type of harm suffered.
A time limit runs from the moment the victim becomes aware that the harm was caused by the criminal act. The victim might only realize this years later. If the victim is a minor, the time limit doesn’t start to run until they turn 18.
1. Physical injury
As of May 23, 2013, a victim who suffered physical injury has 10 years to take a civil action against the person who committed the criminal acts. Before that date, the time limit was only three years. So, if the crime was committed before May 23, 2013, a civil case might not be possible.
This time limit applies to all harm resulting from the physical injuries. For example, the victim also has 10 years to sue for any psychological suffering and financial losses caused by the physical injuries.
There is no time limit to sue for victims of sexual assault, victims of domestic violence or victims of violence suffered during childhood. To learn more, see our article Sexual Assault: Taking Action Years Later.
2. Other damage (such as physical and psychological damage)
Victims who haven’t suffered physical injury generally have three years to take action. This is the case, for example, if criminal acts caused damage to a victim’s property (car or home was vandalized, etc.).
The law also provides shorter time limits in certain situations. For example, if the criminal act harms a person’s reputation, the victim has one year to take action. This is the case, for example, if someone shares intimate images of a person without their consent.
Resources for victims
The Crime Victims’ Assistance Centre (CAVAC) helps victims overcome the psychological and social consequences of crimes. Their services are confidential.
The Quebec government’s program to compensate victims of crimes (IVAC) handles victims’ claims for compensation for physical and psychological harm they suffered due to a crime. Victims must meet some requirements to be eligible.
For more information, consult our article Compensation for Crime Victims (IVAC).
You can also refer to our complete list of resources for victims of crime.