TORONTO â€” A woman’s lawsuit alleging that the billionaire co-founder of Tim Hortons sexually assaulted her at his home will have to be decided at a full-blown trial, Ontario’s top court ruled Friday.
Ron Joyce, 86, who has painted the woman with whom he had a one-time intimate relationship as a “pathological extortionist,” had wanted the Court of Appeal to find he had already paid his 36-year-old accuser to stop pushing the assault allegation before she sued him for $7.5 million in 2013.
While overturning a lower court finding that no settlement had occurred, the Appeal Court nevertheless said it was in no position to agree with him and toss the suit.
“A genuine issue requiring a trial exists as to whether the parties settled (the plaintiff’s) sexual assault claim,” the Appeal Court ruled.
“Given the significant credibility disputes on material issues in this proceeding, including whether the parties reached an oral settlement agreement, this is not an appropriate case for this court to exercise its fact-finding powers.”
As a result, the Appeal Court directed a trial on “all the issues.”
In addition, the court ruled, Joyce will have to defend himself against the woman’s allegation that he slandered her by, among other things, calling her crazy.
The case arose out of an alleged incident in May 2011, when the woman, who is representing herself in court, spent the night at Joyce’s home in Burlington, Ont., so she could drive him to a medical appointment the following day.
She claims she awoke in the guest room early in the morning to find Joyce in her bed naked with his hands down her pyjama bottoms and his fingers in her vagina. He claims he merely tried to awaken her and did not touch her inappropriately.
Joyce also maintains he later paid her $50,000 to settle a $1.6-million lawsuit she was threatening to file, and that they resumed a platonic relationship. She counters the money was “an advance on a lawsuit” and that any notion of a settlement was a fabrication of the lawyers involved.
Last March, Superior Court Justice Paul Perell refused to toss her claim. In a 40-page ruling dripping with scorn for what he had heard, Perell blasted both sides for evidence he said could be proof of extortion, fraud, drug trafficking, obstruction of justice, and perjury.
“An enormous amount of evidence had no purpose other than character assassination of the witnesses and of the friends and family of Mr. Joyce and (the plaintiff),” Perell wrote. “Much of the evidence was inflammatory and designed to enrage the court or the media since both sides are intent on winning a public relations war.”
But in deciding no settlement had been reached, Perell said both sides were “attempting to play tricks on one another by the manner in which they were orchestrating the payment of $50,000.”
The Appeal Court found the trickery assertion amounted to unsupported speculation that tainted Perell’s finding.
“As a result, his decision that the parties did not reach a settlement cannot stand and must be set aside,” the Appeal Court said.
At the same time, the court said, it was not prepared to decide â€” as Joyce wanted it to do â€” that the matter had been settled because it was not situated to make findings of credibility as a judge hearing the case would do.
The Appeal Court also rejected Joyce’s contention that the action was barred by a two-year statute of limitations â€” unless he could show the matter had in fact been settled in November 2011 as he claims.
The Canadian Press does not generally name alleged victims of sexual assault unless they consent.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press