On Wednesday March 24th, I asked questions and spoke on Bill 51 The Limitations Act which puts limits on the length of time after the event, or discovery of the event that court actions can be brought forward. It will now generally be two years. My questions and comments (from Hansard) are below.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): To the minister: I have had concerns raised with me with regard to individuals who already have claims before the courts and for a claim that has, for instance, a 10-year limitation currently, it will move to a two‑year limitation.
The individual is very concerned that the two-year limitation will prevent him from proceeding with his claim in court because, when you change the limitation period, you change the ability for somebody to bring an action forward.
Mr. Friesen: The legislation makes clear that this–that when it comes to actions that are currently under way, there is no prejudice; there is no negative impact to claims that are currently under way. In other words, it is–there is no retroactivity to the bills.
Mr. Gerrard: Yes. Just–first of all, a follow-up to last time: this is not a bill which is going to be retroactive, but at what stage in the court proceedings will the action have to have progressed to? Will it be sufficient for an individual to have filed a claim, or it must be a claim which is more advanced than that?
Mr. Friesen: I believe that an action, at any point, is not prejudiced or negatively impacted in any way by the proposed legislation.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): I want to say a few words with regard to Bill 51, The Limitations Act.
And, specifically, I want to speak with concerns that these changes, while it may be necessary to bring the limitation period more closely into alignment, I think these changes need more public discussion. This is a fairly sweeping change, in terms of shortening The Limitations Act. There are some major issues, which–that minister was not able to answer satisfactorily, at least to me, with regard to the implications with regard to the environment.
I see that there are potentially many, many areas which can be affected, and I think we really need to hear from people who've had experience with various court actions in the past and just to be sure and comfortable that when we limit this to a two-year period, this is going to work adequately and really protect people adequately.
I know that for a number of health claims, it's often complex enough. It's difficult for people to file within two years, sometimes just because of the amount of work that it takes and because there are sometimes significant delays in getting access to records, even though these should be fairly readily accessible when people request them.
I–there are, of course, matters that have to be publicly–or, have to be carefully interpreted, in terms of the health record, and we've seen a year, for example, during COVID when, in fact, COVID has made things much more difficult to get information in time to be able to assess things because it's harder to meet in person.
And so I look forward to the discussion which occurs at committee stage, but we have some significant concerns with a drastic reduction in the period for limitations for many, many areas of court action in Manitoba, and really feels this needs to have more work.
We understand that Indigenous land claims are excluded. We have clearly experienced–for example, with Métis land claims, which are not treaty so much, but Métis land claims which go back more than a hundred years. In fact, these may go back, at this point, close to 150 years.
And so it is important that we are not going to limit legitimate claims, actions, concerns. Those long delays may apply sometimes in terms of environmental or health issues. I mentioned in question period the example of opioids, and the government has said that, you know, the Crown will be able to have no limitation under certain circumstances.
But surely, if the Crown has no limitation with regard to, for example, environmental actions, that members of the general public should also have no limitations with regard to environmental actions.
I speak because it's not entirely clear where such environmental actions currently have–or are limited in time. Certainly, it has taken many years for us to have an understanding of some of the pollution that has happened in the past, to understand and discover that, and, in some instances, one could say that we should have known that for a long time. There was evidence of it, and therefore it is not newly discovered.
A good example would be, in fact, the adverse environmental impact of lead, and there are many–and have been many–court actions in other jurisdictions with regard to lead, and we should have known for many, many years of the adverse health effect in lead. And if we'd look to other jurisdictions where such actions have taken place, then you know, we should have–you can say, well, we should have known, however many years ago, that there was a problem.
But it just wasn't–there was no action because people in Manitoba weren't on top of this.
So, I have some major reservations with this legislation as it's put forward at the moment. I look forward to the discussion at the committee stage, and look forward to further debate and discussion as we move forward.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.