Ontario: the CA on the impact of related criminal proceedings on the limitation of intentional torts

In Winmill v. Woodstock (Police Services Board), the Court of Appeal considered the appropriateness of a proceeding as a remedy to battery.  The decision is generally noteworthy for the quality of its s. 5(1)(a)(iv) analysis, but also of its application of s. 5 to the interaction between claims arising from intentional torts and related to criminal proceedings.  As the court’s dissent notes, the limitation of these claims is usually determined by the misapplication of common law principles, not s. 5.

The plaintiff sued the Woodstock police for negligent investigation and battery.  The police obtained summary judgment dismissing the claim arising from the battery as statute-barred, but not the claim arising from negligent investigation.  The plaintiff appealed successfully.

Justice MacPherson and Feldman undertook a refreshingly comprehensive and sound s. 5 analysis:

[18]      Turning to s. 5(1)(a) of the LA, in this case there is no issue with respect to the first three of the four factors set out in this clause. The appellant knew that he had been injured on June 1, 2014, that the injury was caused by physical blows to his body, and that at least some of the respondents administered those blows.

[19]      The crucial issue is the fourth factor: did the appellant know on June 1, 2016 that a legal proceeding would be an appropriate means to seek to remedy the injuries caused by the alleged battery committed against him?

The court summarised the principles of applicable to s. 5(1)(a)(iv) analyses:

[22]      First, the word “appropriate” means “legally appropriate”.


[23]      Second, this does not mean that determining whether a limitation period applies involves pulling two simple levers – date of injury and date of initiation of legal proceeding – and seeing whether the result is inside or outside the limitation period prescribed by the relevant statute. On the contrary, other important factors can come into play in the analysis.


[24]      Third, within the rubric of “the specific factual or statutory setting of each individual case”, s. 5(1)(b) of the LA requires that attention be paid to the abilities and circumstances of the person with the claim […]

Those principles applied to the plaintiff’s claim meant it was timely:

[25]      Against this background of general principles, I turn to the motion judge’s conclusion that the appellant’s battery claim was outside (by one day) the two year limitation period prescribed by s. 4 of the LA. With respect, I think that the motion judge erred, essentially for three reasons.

[26]      First, the appellant’s negligent investigation claim is proceeding. The parties agree that the discoverability date for this claim is February 17, 2016, the day the appellant was acquitted on the criminal charges against him. Factually, the negligent investigation claim covers almost precisely the same parties and events as the battery claim. There was virtually no investigation in this case. The police were called, they arrived and immediately entered the appellant’s home, and some kind of altercation quickly unfolded.

[27]      In my view, the appellant’s Amended Statement of Claim shows how inextricably intertwined are the two alleged torts:

14 e.  The Defendant officers were present and knew or ought to have known that the Plaintiff did not commit an assault against any police officer. There was no reasonable cause for the Defendant officers to arrest or charge the Plaintiff with assault of a police officer.

14 f.   As the Plaintiff stood motionless, he was pushed violently in the chest by the Defendant Dopf. He was then thrown to the floor. Knee strikes and punches were then delivered by both the Defendants Dopf and Campbell. He was handcuffed, removed from the house and taken to the police station.

[28]      Second, I agree with the appellant that, in the specific factual setting of this case (407 ETR), and bearing in mind the circumstances of the person with the claim (Novak), it made sense for him to postpose deciding whether to make a battery claim against the respondents until his criminal charges for assault and resisting arrest were resolved. The criminal charges of assault and resisting arrest against the appellant and his tort claim of battery against the respondents are, in reality, two sides of the same coin or mirror images of each other.


[31]      In a similar vein, it strikes me as obvious that the verdict in the appellant’s criminal trial, especially on the assault charge, would be a crucial, bordering on determinative, factor in the appellant’s calculation of whether to proceed with a civil action grounded in a battery claim against the respondents.

[32]      Third, and overlapping with the second reason, there is a case almost directly on point suggesting that the appellant was justified in waiting for the verdict in his criminal trial before commencing a civil claim against the respondents. In Chimienti v. Windsor (City)2011 ONCA 16 (CanLII), the plaintiff was charged with assault following a tavern brawl. The charge was dropped. The plaintiff commenced a civil action with claims of negligent and malicious investigation. The motion judge dismissed the action on the basis of the relevant statutory limitation period. This court, although dismissing the appeal on other grounds, disagreed with the motion judge’s analysis of the discoverability issue. In doing so, the court said, at para. 15:

[T]here is something of a logical inconsistency in asking a civil court to rule on the propriety of a criminal prosecution before the criminal court has had the opportunity to assess the merits of the underlying charge.

[33]      In my view, this passage is particularly applicable to this appeal. As I said earlier, the criminal charges of assault and resisting arrest against the appellant and his tort claim of battery against the respondents are very close to being two sides of the same coin or mirror images of each other. Accordingly, it made sense for the appellant to focus on his criminal charges and deal with those before making a final decision about a civil action against the respondents.

Justice Hourigan dissented:

[40]      In my view, the decision of this court in Markel Insurance Company of Canada v. ING Insurance Company2012 ONCA 218(CanLII)109 O.R. (3d) 652, is key to the correct outcome in this case. In that case, Sharpe J.A. explained that “appropriate” under s. 5(1)(a)(iv) of the Act must mean “legally appropriate”, and, at para. 34, admonished against giving the term a broad meaning:

To give “appropriate” an evaluative gloss, allowing a party to delay the commencement of proceedings for some tactical or other reason beyond two years from the date the claim is fully ripened … would, in my opinion, inject an unacceptable element of uncertainty into the law of limitation of actions.

[41]      My colleague acknowledges the authority of Markel, but in my view undermines it by emphasizing the need to attend to the factual circumstances of individual cases, drawing on this court’s subsequent decisions in 407 ETR Concession Co. v. Day2016 ONCA 709 (CanLII)133 O.R. (3d) 762, and Brown v. Baum2016 ONCA 325 (CanLII)397 D.L.R. (4th) 161. But both of these cases are clearly distinguishable. An action in 407 ETR was not “appropriate” at the time of the injury because an alternative administrative means of settling the dispute had not been completed. An action in Brown was not “appropriate” at the time of the injury because the defendant surgeon was providing further treatment in an attempt to rectify the harm he was alleged to have caused in the initial surgery.

[42]      There was no alternative means of resolving the appellant’s allegations in this case, nor were the defendants in a position to rectify the harm they were alleged to have caused. My colleague considers it obvious that the appellant should await the outcome of the criminal proceedings against him, relying on dicta from Chimienti v. Windsor (City)2011 ONCA 16 (CanLII)330 D.L.R. (4th) 148. But that case, too, is distinguishable, among other reasons because it concerned claims of negligent and malicious investigation – claims that depended on the completion of the relevant criminal proceedings on which they were based.


[44]      Nor can a claimant delay the start of a limitation period for an intentional tort in order to await the outcome of related criminal proceedings. This approach has been followed by Ontario trial courts in many cases. For example, in Brown v. Becks2017 ONSC 4218 (CanLII), the court held that a limitation period involving various claims against police including battery during an arrest ran from the date of the plaintiff’s arrest, not the date of his acquittal on criminal charges; in Boyce v. Toronto (City) Police Services Board2011 ONSC 54 (CanLII), aff’d 2012 ONCA 230 (CanLII), the limitation period in a civil action against police ran from the date of the battery rather than the officers’ conviction on assault charges. See also EBF v. HMQ in Right of Ontario, et. al2013 ONSC 2581 (CanLII), and Wong v. Toronto Police Services Board2009 CanLII 66385 (ON SC)2009 CarswellOnt 7412 (Ont. S.C.). Similarly, in Kolosov v. Lowe’s Companies Inc.2016 ONCA 973 (CanLII)34 C.C.L.T. (4th) 177, this court affirmed the trial judge’s decision that a limitation period involving intentional tortious conduct alleged to have occurred on arrest ran from the date of the arrest rather than the date of the withdrawal of the criminal charges. See also Roda v. Toronto Police Services Board2016 ONSC 743 (CanLII), aff’d 2017 ONCA 768 (CanLII). My colleague offers no reason to depart from this body of law.

I disagree with this reasoning particularly in regards of the jurisprudence holding that the limitation period commence always on a certain date, like the date of an arrest.  That jurisprudence misapplies common law principles of cause of action accrual to the Limitations Act’s discovery provisions.  As I have discussed many times [cite], it is not the case under the Limitations Act that all plaintiffs will discover a claim always on the happening of a particular event, like an arrest.

Lastly, I noted that the court cited its decision in West for the principle different limitation periods may apply to different torts:

[17]      I begin with a structural point. In a single case where a plaintiff alleges different torts, it is possible and permissible for different limitation periods to apply to the different torts: see West v. Ontario2015 ONCA 147 (CanLII), at paras. 2-3.

It’s not clear to me how there could be any uncertainty about this point.  The Limitations Act applies to “claims” pursued in court proceedings, that is, claims to remedy damage resulting from an act or omission.  There can only be one act or omission in a claim.  Discrete acts or omissions give rise to discrete claims.  A court may define an act expansively, so that, for example, one act of deceit is comprised of multiple unlawful acts, but an act could never be the actionable conduct in deceit and, say, negligent misrepresentation.  This applies equally to claims where the actionable conduct doesn’t sound in tort.