Toronto Sexual Abuse Lawyers

Team Members:

Susan Vella, L.S.M. (416.363.7627 - direct line svella@rochongenova.com)

Michael Wilchesky - Associate (416.363.1867, Ext. 225; mwilchesky@rochongenova.com)

Jennifer Lord, Legal Assistant - Law Clerk (416.363.1867, Ext. 248; jlord@rochongenova.com)

Meredith Francis - Law Clerk (416.363.1867, Ext. 243; mfrancis@rochongenova.com)

Koen Verpraet - Paralegal (416.363.1867, Ext. 286; kverpraet@rochongenova.com)


PRACTICE AREA HIGHLIGHTS:

Rochon Genova LLP features an experienced team in the area of civil sexual assault, institutional abuse, and multi-victim lawsuits, known for its pioneering and precedent setting work in this field. We assist victims of sexual and physical assault, mental cruelty, and institutional abuse in advancing their claims before the courts, tribunals and alternative dispute resolution processes.

Our practice group leader, Susan Vella, is recognized as one of Canada's foremost practitioners in the areas of civil sexual assault, institutional abuse, civil litigation and multi-victim lawsuits. In the September 2003 issue of L'ExpertTM magazine and in the National Post, Financial Post section that same year, Susan Vella was named as "one of the 15 top Canadian women lawyers to watch". Susan was awarded the Award of Justice by the Advocates' Society in 2008 in recognition of her accomplished work in this field on behalf of survivors of abuse.

On May 28th, 2009, Ms. Vella was awarded the Law Society Medal. The Law Society Medal is presented to Ontario lawyers who represent the highest level of achievement and commitment to serving society and the profession. Upon receiving this prestigious award, Ms. Vella was interviewed by Law Times in relation to her work in the area of civil sexual assault. Click here to view that interview.

Representing victims of sexual and physical assault, mental cruelty, and institutional abuse, her practice was the first of its kind on "Bay Street". Susan Vella has represented individuals and groups of victims for over 25 years, and has achieved many landmark decisions and results for persons whose claims were at one time not recognized as legitimate and worthy of compensation. She represented approximately 200 women who, as girls, were sent to the Grandview Training School For Girls. With her clients, Susan negotiated a precedent setting "healing package" which included an apology from the Government of Ontario, various forms of compensation, and "in kind" benefits. This settlement package has been the subject of much academic, legal and public media commentary because of its precedent setting and multifaceted nature.

Susan Vella had the privilege of representing the first victim to come forward in the Maple Leaf Gardens abuse scandal, Martin Kruze, in the civil litigation context. She assisted Martin Kruze in bringing the Maple Leaf Garden scandal to the attention of Maple Leaf Gardens, the public, and the justice system [see selected excerpt from Globe and Mail article entitled "Scandal Slams Gardens Into the Boards" dated February 22nd, 1997].

In Susan Vella's first reported civil sexual assault decision, C.(P) v C.(R.) (1994), 114 DLR (4th) 151, she successfully obtained the first judicial ruling in a civil sexual assault context, in which the since debunked theory of "false memory syndrome" was ruled to be lacking in scientific basis and therefore not available as a defence in these cases. [see article on False Memory Syndrome CBA - January-February 1994, Vol. 3, No. 1).

More recently, in Evans v. Sproule, [2008] O.J. No. 4518, Ms. Vella successfully obtained a $240,000 judgment, plus substantial indemnity legal costs and interest, for a sexual assault committed by a former Toronto police officer nearly 30 years ago. [read full article] This was the first trial decision which recognized that a police force could be vicariously liable for the sexual misconduct of its police officers.

In 2014, Ms. Vella and her team obtained an important decision in relation to the alleged transmission of the herpes simplex virus, type 2 ("HSV-2"), which affirmed the existence of fiduciary duties owed between spouses, D.V. v. Leo, 2014 ONSC 5227. In 2015, Ms. Vella's team obtained an important appellate decision (E.A. et al. v. Haroun, 2015 ONSC 5623, leave to appeal refused by 2016 ONSC 39 (Div. Ct.)), allowing 2 sisters who alleged they were sexually abused by their common uncle (but at different times, and not in each other’s presence) to proceed with their claims in a single action. The Court agreed that by proceeding in this manner, the claims will be litigated as efficiently as possible, and the plaintiffs (and other witnesses) will be shielded from the pain and stress of unnecessary repetitions of testimony.

Susan Vella is also a recognized author and speaker and has many presentations, articles, and other writings to her credit, including her co-authored publication, "Civil Liability for Sexual Abuse and Violence in Canada" (Toronto : Butterworths, 2000) which has been cited by the Court of Appeal for Ontario with approval, and has been identified as a "must have" text for any lawyer entering into this area of law. [see Selected Presentations and Consultations]

As well, Susan Vella was one of the first lawyers to assist First Nations' survivors of clergy sexual abuse, including her landmark settlement on behalf of individuals who were abused by a priest at the Cape Croker reserve, and has represented First Nations survivors who were sexually abused by Ralph Rowe - a former Anglican minister, priest pilot and Boy Scouts Silver Acorn honouree who travelled to various reserve territories in north-western Ontario. In addition, Susan Vella represents survivors of the Indian Residential Schools system both before the courts and in the current Federal Government Indian Residential School settlement process.

Susan Vella has appeared as lead counsel at all levels of court in civil sexual abuse and other matters, including the Supreme Court of Canada, the Court of Appeal for Ontario, the Superior Court of Justice (Divisional Court). She has conducted several civil sexual assault trials at the Superior Court of Justice (and the former Ontario Court of Justice - General Division) against both institutions and individual perpetrators. See for example: Bazley v. Curry, [1999] 2 S.C.R. 534; Jacobi v. Griffiths, [1999] 2 S.C.R. 570; K.L.B. v. British Columbia, [2003] 2 S.C.R. 403; M.B. v. British Columbia, [2003] 2 S.C.R. 477; and E.D.G. v. Hammer, [2003] 2 S.C.R. 459; P.D. v Allen, [2004] O.J. No. 3042; Polgrain Estate v. Toronto East General Hospital (2008), 293 D.L.R. (4th) 266 (C.A.); Evans v. Sproule, [2008] O.J. No. 4518. Ms. Vella has represented individuals against various religious institutions, school boards, children's aid agencies, the federal and provincial governments, police forces, health care facilities and other defendants.

Ms. Vella is a past president of the National Association of Women and the Law, was a legal consultant to the Canada Law Commission regarding its report, "Restoring Dignity: Responding to Child Abuse in Canadian Institutions", is a member of the Advocates Society, the Ontario Bar Association and Canadian Bar Associations, and a past Vice Chair of the Commercial Registrations Appeal Tribunal. Ms. Vella also currently sits as counsel to The Minister's Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Patients and the Regulated Health Professions Act, is a member of the Civil Rules Committee, and is the Chairperson for the VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto.

Ms. Vella is often sought by the media for her perspective and comments on challenging sexual abuse and misconduct matters. Ms. Vella has been interviewed and quoted by several national publications, including The Globe and Mail, 'Catholic priest faces sentencing for sexual abuse', The National Post, 'Ontario and Nova Scotia loosening rules on sex abuse cases, making it easier for victims to sue their attackers' and Maclean's, 'Lawsuits for mental pain becoming more common', Russell Williams offers a defence' and 'What a season of sexual harassment suits says about the modern office'. Ms. Vella has also been interviewed and quoted by the Toronto Star, 'Tougher action urged to probe doctors guilty of sex abuse' and '30 years later, $215,000 for officer's sex assault', the Law Times, 'Lawyers call for higher damages in civil sexual assault cases' and '$125K libel award against sex abuse complainants sends chill, lawyers warn', and by the hosts of Square Off (CHCH), regarding the potentially chilling effects of the Court's decision Vanderkooy v. Vanderkooy et al., 2013 ONSC 4796, on sexual abuse victims. Recently, Ms. Vella was interviewed and quoted by The Lawyers Weekly, 'One sentence undoes sex assault trial', concerning the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision to set aside a jury conviction and order a new trial in relation to an alleged sexual assault in R. v. C.K.D., [2016] ONCA 66, on the basis that the trial judge erred in instructing the jury on assessing the credibility of a 17-year-old witness who testified she had been assaulted by her stepbrother when she was 12. Ms. Vella was also interviewed and quoted by Chatelaine, 'Bill Cosby is suing his Canadian accuser. Can Ghomeshi sue his?', concerning the potential effects of Jian Gomeshi’s criminal trial on any future civil action(s) commenced by Jian Gomeshi and/or the complainants in the criminal proceedings.

Ms. Vella has been selected by her peers to be on the Best Lawyers'Best Lawyerslisting in the practice areas of personal injury litigation and Aboriginal Law in specific recognition of her work representing survivors of sexual and institutional abuse and First Nations communities.

Contact Rochon Genova LLP

Call Rochon Genova at 416-548-9874 or send us an email to set up a free consultation. We can help survivors of sexual abuse and sexual cruelty throughout the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario, and across Canada.