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Torts - Assault

. Deluca v. Bucciarelli

In Deluca v. Bucciarelli (Ont CA, 2022) the Court of Appeal considered a s.16(1)(h.2)(i) argument [no limitation where assault in intimidate relationship] under the Limitations Act:
[9] The appellant does not dispute that she was aware that the conduct she alleged in her statement of claim occurred more than two years before she issued her statement of claim. However, she relies on ss. 5(1)(a)(iv) and 16(1)(h.2)(i) of the Act to assert that there is a genuine issue for trial concerning whether she was prevented from discovering her claim within the two-year period because of her fear of the respondent (s. 5(1)(a)(iv)) or whether her claim falls within the exception to the two-year period because her proceeding is based, at least in part, on an assault that occurred in an intimate relationship (s.16(1)(h.2)(i)).[1]

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[15] Second, the appellant raised a variety of arguments asserting that the motion judge erred in appreciating the scope of s. 16(1)(h.2)(i) of the Act or in articulating or applying the elements of the tort of assault.

[16] The motion judge relied on Bruce v. Dyer, 1966 CanLII 191 (ON SC), [1966] 2 O.R. 705 (H.C.) aff’d 1967 CanLII 653 (ON CA), [1970] 1 O.R. 482 (C.A.), for a description of the elements of the tort of assault. The motion judge said, “[t]he [appellant] must prove on a balance of probabilities that she had reasonable grounds to believe that she was in danger of violence from [the respondent], that she feared imminent harmful or offensive contact (emphasis in the original).” The motion judge was not satisfied the appellant had adduced evidence that could meet this standard.

[17] The appellant submitted that, particularly when viewed in the context of an evolving understanding of domestic violence and controlling behaviour, in assessing her evidence, the motion judge took too narrow a view of “imminence” and of the scope of “an assault” as that term appears in s. 16(1)(h.2)(i) of the Act. The appellant pointed to Warman v. Grosvenor (2008), 2008 CanLII 57728 (ON SC), 92 O.R. (3d) 663 (S.C.) and Dunne v. Gauthier, 2000 BCSC 1603, as examples of cases that illustrate that imminence can mean different things in different contexts. The appellant also argued that the motion judge erred in failing to recognize that the term “assault”, as it appears in s. 16(1)(h.2)(i), can and should be interpreted broadly, so as to encompass threatening and harassing behaviour giving rise to fear of harm at some future unspecified point in time.

[18] We do not accept these submissions. Section 16(1)(h.2)(i) of the Act provides that there is no limitation period in respect of “a proceeding based on an assault” where at the time of the assault the parties “had an intimate relationship.” In our view, the appellant’s arguments are foreclosed by this court’s recent decision in Barker v. Barker, 2022 ONCA 567, [2022] O.J. No. 3526 (C.A.), in which this court considered the scope of the tort of assault. At paras. 137-138, this court explained that a tortious assault “involves intentionally causing another to fear imminent contact of a harmful or offensive nature (citations omitted, emphasis added).” At para. 171 of Barker, this court confirmed that “imminence is a critical component of the tort of assault.”

[19] This court went on in Barker to consider the decisions in both Warman and Dunne on which the appellant relied.

[20] At para. 173 of Barker, this court described the conduct in Warman, which the trial judge found amounted to an assault, as involving a relentless, two-year campaign of harassment involving internet postings and email. The communications were homophobic and anti-Semitic. Among other things, the defendant’s internet posts referred to the victim as a “dead [] walking”, shared his address including a map of his residence, and urged readers to “pay him a visit” and let him “meet his fate – execution at the hands of a people’s government”. One post concluded, “I have a Ruger P-90 and its bullets have your name on them”.

[21] At para. 174 of Barker, this court emphasized that the Warman trial judge recognized that damages are recoverable for assault “by someone who is made apprehensive of immediate physical contact” (emphasis in the original). Significantly, the Warman trial judge stated: “Frightening or threatening someone, however, does not constitute an assault unless the event feared is imminent….”

[22] At para. 176 of Barker, this court described Dunne as a case that involved a conditional threat to cause harm if the plaintiff school bus driver ever drove on the defendant’s laneway again. Significantly, in Dunne, the conditional threat was made immediately after the defendant finished physically battering the school bus driver. Moreover, the victim was aware that the defendant drove a large tractor trailer unit that could “take out” the victim and his bus.

[23] At para. 176 of Barker, this court agreed with comments of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal that “[b]oth Dunne and Warman are useful examples of how imminence might be understood, but they do not attenuate the fundamental requirements of the tort of civil assault.”

[24] Given this court’s decision in Barker, we see no error in the motion judge’s appreciation of the scope of s. 16(1)(h.2)(i) of the Act or in her articulation or application of the elements of the tort of assault. The motion judge’s articulation of the elements of assault is consistent with Barker. Based on the evidence adduced by the appellant, the motion judge concluded that the appellant had not adduced evidence capable of demonstrating a genuine issue for trial concerning whether the respondent’s alleged conduct met the threshold of “an assault”. In general, she assessed the appellant’s evidence as lacking in particulars and unpersuasive. Concerning the police occurrence reports on which the appellant relied, the motion judge noted that they contained a comment that the appellant did not fear for her safety. The facts of both Warman and Dunne are distinguishable from the facts of this case. The Warman trial judge was satisfied based on the specific facts of that case that the plaintiff was “reasonably apprehensive of imminent physical contact”. The physical battering that preceded the conditional threat in Dunne and the victim’s knowledge of the appellant’s capabilities were specific circumstances creating support for the finding of an assault. Here, the appellant’s allegations and evidence did not rise to a similar level. We see no basis on which to interfere with the motion judge’s findings and conclusions.



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