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

Disillusioned by the slowness of the judicial system, a man victim of corporal punishment by a pastor asked to be removed as a petitioner from the collective action initiated against his attacker.

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

Disillusioned by the slowness of the judicial system, a man victim of corporal punishment by a pastor asked to be removed as a petitioner from the collective action initiated against his attacker.

• Read also: Shortage of staff in courthouses: two accused of pimping could get away with it

• Read also: Shortage of staff in courthouses: opposition urges the government to act

• To read also: “We are living in a disaster”: the lack of staff in the courts could lead to a break in service

“I want to put an end to these procedures. I can no longer. I will not wait to lose my wife, my daughter and my life to the procedures. I will not spend my life in it, ”says Josh Seanosky, who denounces the “war of attrition” in which he is entangled.

In recent weeks, our Bureau of Investigation has reported several shortcomings in the judicial system, including the explosion of delays in small claims and the shortage of staff in courthouses.

The world of class actions is no exception. The increase in the number of class actions as well as the delays are of concern to the Chief Justice of the Superior Court, who is asking for state intervention (see other text below).

Seven years in the system

For Mr. Seanosky, the wait has become too much to bear. Out of breath and irritated by a difference of opinion with his lawyers, he asked eight months ago to no longer be a co-petitioner of the collective action brought against Pastor Claude Guillot.

“I had the reflection: I am sinking. I will not save others if I am unable to 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 the Baptist pastor, in Quebec, where he was a boarder. From the age of 8 to 21, he suffered multiple physical and psychological abuse imposed by the one who was 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 has been stretching since 2018. Although he has found a replacement, Mr. Seanosky is waiting to be able to turn the page on this file. Again yesterday, the court took his request for withdrawal under advisement.

"It's completely ridiculous. We stretch the sauce. That's why I want 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 was filed in 2018 and authorized in 2020.

The parties have made an appointment virtually in court on a few occasions, but nothing is progressing, deplores the one 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 point us out as manipulators and liars. We are attacked again by our attacker. This is what I experience at each hearing, ”laments Mr. Simard.

Infuriated 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.

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

On average, 54 class actions were initiated in Quebec each year until 2016. This number rose to 70 in the following two years, according to a report prepared for the Department of Justice.

With this increase undeniably come delays.

“For me, justice should be done almost in real time. The years of waiting, I find it long,” says the Honorable Jacques R. Fournier.

If he welcomes the remedies that grant real compensation by substantial amounts to the victims or to the consumers defrauded, the chief judge doubts however the relevance of the civil procedures which aim for “minimal compensation for millions of people”.

For the population

Especially since in this type of case, lawyers usually 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 the agents of the system. It is made to benefit the population,” insists Judge Fournier.

more powers

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

This would avoid coming to a settlement that would only benefit law firms or consumer associations, according to the magistrate.

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

On June 1, 2021, the Ministère de la Justice launched public consultations on the prospects for class action reform in Quebec.

The ministry did not respond to our questions.

The Superior Court in Montreal set up a class action chamber in 2018. The judges who sit there are specialists in the matter and make themselves available quickly to hear requests for authorization of files, the first step for an appeal to go forward.

“That works very, very well. It's beyond my expectations. [...] But that is expensive. When judges do that, they don't do anything else,” analyzes the Chief Justice of the Superior Court, Jacques R. Fournier.

Cases can now be heard in months, whereas it used to take years. Once the actions are authorized, however, they end up in the "regular machine" and undergo the same delays.

May 18Our Bureau of Investigation reveals that the delays for a small claims hearing have almost tripled since the CAQ came to power.

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

May 20A 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 24Labour shortage is a “catastrophe” that risks leading to a break in service, warns the Chief Justice of the Superior Court.

May 30 Defense lawyers prepare to boycott sexual assault and domestic violence cases to denounce below-minimum-wage rates.

May 31 An inmate files an extraordinary motion to force the courts to hear his request for release, postponed for lack of staff.