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Byron Ruttan in his Verona, Ont. home on Sept. 11, 2017.Fred Lum

The first crime victim whose case was thrown out because of the Supreme Court’s new time limits for trials is facing a long wait for justice in his lawsuit against the Ontario government – the latest development in the 40-year legal saga of Byron Ruttan.

A truant at age 12, Mr. Ruttan was ordered by a judge to accept a student teacher from Queen’s University as his mentor. Decades later, a criminal court judge found the mentor had raped him at least 50 times – but the Supreme Court of Canada said proceedings had taken too long (just under three years from charge to completion), and threw out the mentor’s conviction and four-year jail sentence.

And today, the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney-General is battling the now 51-year-old’s $2.85-million lawsuit, denying that the consequences of the rapes have been as harmful as he claims – causing major depression, suicidal behaviour and loss of the ability to earn a living – and adding that even if they were, the province bears no legal responsibility for the abuse.

‘I know the truth’: A rape survivor on the line between justice delayed and justice denied

On Wednesday, a judge set a trial date of next Sept. 23 – four years and three months since Mr. Ruttan filed the lawsuit, or about 16 months longer than the criminal proceedings dismissed by the Supreme Court as too long. In the next few months, Mr. Ruttan will undergo an assessment by a psychiatrist and an accountant retained by the province to counter similar experts from his side.

“There’s no money that could ever replace the damage done to me,” Mr. Ruttan, a father of four, said in a telephone interview. “I can’t imagine what my life would be without it happening to me.”

His lawyer, Simona Jellinek of Toronto, said in an interview that it is time for the government to “do the right thing” and settle the case in line with what other child-abuse victims have been awarded by courts in the province.

“At every turn the justice system has failed him,” she said.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that this new government has not taken a look at this case and realized just how horrifically this man has been treated by the courts for his whole life, starting at age 12 – from being placed in a pedophile’s hands with no oversight, to the criminal case which was atrocious, in my opinion, to stringing this along likely until either the eve of trial or trial.”

Court awards in previous sexual-abuse cases in Ontario have surpassed $2-million. Ms. Jellinek cites a Superior Court ruling this past summer in the case of K.M., who sued a school board. In that case, the abuse involved 100 instances of fondling a 13- to 14-year-old boy’s genitals over his clothing, and forced oral sex on several occasions, over two years. The court awarded $2.4-million, of which $250,000 was for pain and suffering, and most of the rest was for loss of earnings over a lifetime.

The Supreme Court said in a 2016 case, R. v. Jordan, that the criminal justice system suffered from a culture of complacency. It set a time limit for proceedings of 30 months in superior court, from charge to completion, and 18 months in Provincial Court. (Barrett Jordan had been convicted of dealing drugs; there was no direct victim in his case.) At the same time, the court issued a ruling in R. v. Williamson, applying the new time limits to the case in which Mr. Ruttan had been the victim. Kenneth Gavin Williamson, the former mentor, never served time in jail in connection with the case.

Delay is a long-time feature of Canadian civil courts, just as it has been in criminal court. Ms. Jellinek blamed the delay in the case in part on the time it takes for government lawyers to receive instructions from their employer – and in part on backlogged Ontario courts in which she said criminal cases now take priority over civil ones. As well, the federal government has yet to fill 17 vacant judges' positions on the Ontario Superior Court.

The denial of liability began under the previous government. At a mandatory mediation session last March, the two sides failed to reach a settlement.

The court-ordered mentor served as a volunteer for a diversion program aimed at keeping the 12-year-old boy out of formal disciplinary processes.

Who ran the diversion program is in dispute. Ms. Jellinek says in a court filing it was a local children’s aid society. The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney-General says in its statement of defence that it was another agency, the Frontenac Diversion Programme, funded by the province and receiving referrals from children’s aid, while working in consultation with a probation officer.

The ministry says the province is not legally responsible for actions committed by the diversion program. It “denies that [Mr. Ruttan] has suffered the damages as alleged, or at all," it said in a court filing, adding that if there were any harms, the government had nothing to do with causing them.

“Ontario has defended the action,” ministry spokesman Brian Gray said in an e-mail, declining further comment while proceedings are ongoing.

Ms. Jellinek says the ultimate sticking point is not liability, which she is confident she can show, but the consequences of the assaults on Mr. Ruttan, and what the financial damages should be as a result.

“The real question is the effect on Byron’s life, and what that translates into in terms of a cost award,” she said. Mr. Ruttan’s lawsuit includes claims for $350,000 for pain and suffering, and $2-million for lost income.

Mr. Ruttan, who lives in Napanee, Ont., sued after a juror from the criminal trial approached him after the guilty verdict in 2011 and gave him the name of a local lawyer, who then referred him to Ms. Jellinek. He had the publication ban on his identity lifted by a judge at his request last year after The Globe and Mail approached him for a profile on the Williamson case.

Editor’s note: (October 26, 2018) A previous version of this article included display copy that incorrectly said Byron Ruttan is the first crime victim to have his case thrown out by the Supreme Court because of unreasonable delays in the court system. In fact, as the story states, it was the first thrown out because of the Court’s new time limits for trials.

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