Collective action in Quebec: overwhelmed by the slowness of the system

Collective action in Quebec: overwhelmed by the slowness of the system

Disillusioned by the slow pace of the judicial system, a man who was the victim of corporal punishment by a pastor asked to be removed as a petitioner from the class action brought against his assailant.

“I want to end these procedures. I can not anymore. I will not wait to lose my wife, my daughter, and my life to the proceedings. I will not spend my life on it, ”says Josh Seanosky, who denounces the“ war of attrition ”in which he is entangled.

In recent weeks, our Bureau of Investigations has reported several shortcomings in the court system, including exploding small claims backlogs and courtroom staffing shortages.

The world of collective actions is no exception. The increase in the number of collective lawsuits as well as the delays worries the President of the Superior Court of Justice, who requests the intervention of the State (see other text below).

Seven years in the system

For Mr. Seanosky, the wait has become too much to bear. Breathless and irritated by a difference of opinion with his lawyers, he asked eight months ago to stop co-authoring the class action brought against Pastor Claude Guillot.

“I had the reflection: I am sinking. I will not save others if I cannot take care of myself. It’s nice to fight, but at some point, it wears out, “sums up the 28-year-old father.

He escaped in 2014 from the clandestine school of Pastor Bautista, in Quebec, where he was a boarding school. From the age of 8 to 21, he suffered multiple physical and psychological abuse imposed by whoever was going to educate him. Since then, he has been navigating the judiciary.

The criminal case has dragged on for seven years. Guillot was convicted last April but is still awaiting sentencing.

At the same time, the class action lawsuit has been rolling on since 2018. Although he has found a replacement, Mr. Seanosky is looking forward to turning the page on this file. Yesterday, the court took into consideration his withdrawal request.

“It’s completely ridiculous. We stretch the sauce. That’s why I want to get out of here! “plagues the young man.

Letter to the Minister

This sentiment is shared by Jean Simard, who represents the approximately 600 alleged victims of physical and sexual assaults allegedly perpetrated at the Mont d’Youville orphanage in Quebec City. The class-action lawsuit was filed in 2018 and cleared in 2020.

The parties have made an appointment virtually in court on a few occasions, but nothing progresses, regrets who describes these sessions as “circus” and “advocacy”.

“We don’t even have a trial date. They want to question us before the trial […]. They mark us as manipulators and liars. We are attacked again by our attacker. This is what I experience in every audience”, laments Mr. Simard.

Angered by the situation, the 60-year-old held a demonstration in front of the National Assembly in early May and wrote to Quebec Minister and Attorney General Simon Jolin-Barrette in April to raise awareness of the situation. In vain.

A great profit machine for lawyers

Jacques R. Fournier, President of the Supreme Court

Photo Agency QMI, Joël Lemay

Jacques R. Fournier, President of the Supreme Court

Class actions are constantly growing and can become “profit centers for lawyers,” warns the President of the Superior Court of Justice, who asks the legislator to act to improve the situation.

On average, 54 class actions were brought in Quebec each year through 2016. This number increased to 70 over the next two years, according to a report prepared for the Department of Justice.

With this increase undeniably come delays.

“For me, justice must be done almost in real-time. The years of waiting seem long to me”, says the Honorable Jacques R. Fournier.

If he accepts the remedies that grant real compensation for substantial amounts to victims or defrauded consumers, the president of the court doubts, however, the relevance of civil procedures that seek “a minimum compensation for millions of people.”

for the population

Especially since in these types of cases, lawyers often collect hundreds of thousands of dollars, while each participant in the action sometimes only receives a handful of dollars.

“Sometimes, we can ask ourselves questions about some of these remedies. An opportunity to make money, that’s not right. […] The system is not made to benefit system agents. It is done to benefit the population”, insists Judge Fournier.

more powers

To counter this trend, judges should be able to determine whether a class action lawsuit is contrary to the interests of the administration of justice.

This would avoid reaching an agreement that would only benefit law firms or consumer associations, according to the magistrate.

The State can act in this sense, recalls Judge Fournier.

The Ministry of Justice launched on 1Ahem June 2021 public consultations on the prospects for class action reform in Quebec.

The ministry did not respond to our questions.

The Montreal Superior Court established a class action chamber in 2018. The judges who sit there are specialists in the field and are quickly available to hear requests for clearance of records, the first step in moving an appeal forward.

“That works very, very well. It is beyond my expectations. […] But it is expensive. When the judges do that, they do nothing else”, analyzes the President of the Supreme Court, Jacques R. Fournier.

Cases can now be heard in months, whereas before it took years. However, once the actions are authorized, they end up on the “regular machine” and suffer the same delays.

May 18
Our Bureau of Research reveals that small claims hearing delays have nearly tripled since the CAQ took office.

May 19
In a recent decision, a judge urged the Ministry of Justice to resolve the problem of staff shortages.

May 20th
A judge apologizes to an 87-year-old victim after being forced to postpone a trial due to a lack of court clerks in Montreal.

May 24
The labor shortage is a “catastrophe” that risks causing a service interruption, warns the President of the High Court.

May 30
Defense attorneys are preparing to boycott sexual assault and domestic violence cases to denounce subminimum wage rates.

May 31
A detainee makes an extraordinary request to force the courts to hear his request for release, postponed due to a lack of staff.

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