Sexual Misconduct: Are Class Actions the Way to Go?

In the News

On May 24, an application to begin a class action was filed in by a former hockey player against the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), its 18 teams, and the Canadian Hockey League. The former player is alleging he was sexually abused during the 1990s by older players. His application is being made on behalf of everyone who played in the QMJHL since 1969 and suffered such abuse. 

In recent years, some victims of repeated sexual misconduct have filed class actions. The results have been mixed. Before considering the evidence in detail, the court must decide if a class action is the right recourse.  

Mixed results 

Last February, in a case that made the headlines, the Superior Court of Ontario rejected a class action against junior hockey leagues across Canada. Ex-hockey players filed this class action because of alleged humiliating and degrading “initiation” practices between 1980 and 2010. 

In 2020, the Quebec Court of Appeal rejected a class action against Gilbert Rozon for alleged repeated sexual violence. 

In May 2022, however, the Superior Court of Quebec granted permission to start a class action against two Quebec religious organizations. Many women are accusing 88 clergy members of committing sexual misconduct between 2008 and 2010. 

A class action isn’t always the appropriate recourse 

The legal process for class actions has an important first step. A court must grant permission for a class action to start.  

In Quebec, a class action must meet several requirements to get this permission. Here are some of the requirements: 

  • Several people experienced a similar situation. 
  • A class action is a better way to respond to this situation than many separate court cases. 

If the court decides that a class action doesn’t meet all the requirements, the class action can’t move forward. 

For example, in the Quebec class action against Gilbert Rozon, the court found that Rozon’s alleged actions were too specific to each victim. So, the court decided that a class action wasn’t better than separate court cases in this situation. 

In the Ontario class action against junior hockey leagues, the court decided that it couldn’t hold one provincial league responsible for things that happened under the responsibility of another provincial league. 

We don’t yet know the result of the May 24 application mentioned above.  

What are other recourses for victims of sexual misconduct?

If a court rejects a class action, it doesn’t mean the court did not believe the applicants. It may simply mean the court decided that a class action wasn’t the right recourse in their situation.  

Victims can file still separate court cases. For example, at least nine women decided to file separate cases against Gilbert Rozon after their class action was rejected. In the Ontario class action against junior hockey leagues, the court even suggested that victims file separate court cases after it rejected their class action. 

What are class actions?

A class action is a court case started by one person on behalf of everyone who has experienced a similar situation.

Everyone who experienced this situation is automatically included in the class action without having to do anything. If the court awards compensation, everyone included in the class action has a right to their share of this compensation.