Direct Line: 416.363.7627
E-mail Address: email@example.com
Alison Kearns - Associate
(416.363.1867, Ext. 286; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Michael Wilchesky - Associate
(416.363.1867, Ext 225; email@example.com)
Jennifer Lord, Legal Assistant - Law Clerk
(416.363.1867, Ext. 248; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Meredith Francis, Law Clerk
(416.363.1867, Ext. 243; email@example.com)
Main Areas of Practice:
Civil Sexual and Institutional Abuse and Misconduct Claims, Aboriginal Rights Litigation and First Nations' Dispute Resolution, Commercial Litigation, Public Interest Litigation
Graduated from St. Michael's College, University of Toronto, Hon. B.A. (Eng.), With Distinction
Graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School, LL.B., 1986
Called to the Bar, Law Society of Upper Canada, 1988
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. On June 11th, 2008 Susan received The Advocates' Society Award of Justice. The Award of Justice honours advocates who exemplify the finest traditions of advocacy in representing members in society whose cause may be politically or socially unpopular or against the mainstream. In the September 2003 issue of L'Expert™ 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".
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 20 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].
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.
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).
Susan Vella had the further privilege of representing the Wunnumin Lake First Nation at the Supreme Court of Canada in Bazley v Curry,  2 SCR 534. Ms. Vella successfully advanced the proposition that the established common law concept of "vicarious liability", under the test known as the Salmond 'scope of employment', could be applied to render institutional, corporate and government employers liable for the harms caused by their employees' illicit sexual misconduct towards children and others vulnerable to or dependent upon those employees. This theory has been subsequently successfully applied by Ms. Vella and others to obtain compensation from religious organizations including the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches, governments (such as in the residential school, training school and cadet cases), school boards, hospitals, and other employers who prior to this leading Supreme Court of Canada decision, were thought to be immune from responsibility unless the employer had actual knowledge of the abuse while it was ongoing and failed to intervene.
Susan Vella also represented Nishnawbe Aski Nation (Treaty 9 Aboriginal organization representing 49 First Nation communities) at the Supreme Court of Canada in a trilogy of sexual abuse cases.
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]
Ms. Vella also represents First Nations and Aboriginal peoples in their quest for justice against governments, corporations and other institutions for historical and contemporary wrongs. She was winning counsel on behalf of Slate Falls First Nation in resisting a comprehensive attack by the federal government and Ontario Power Generation to stop this First Nation's flooding claim without the right to go to trial. [see Reasons for Judgment of Justice Horkins released on September 21, 2004]. Ms. Vella recently completed the yearlong trial in this matter which featured the calling of elders, other members of the First Nation community and experts, and was conducted as an electronic (paperless) trial.
Ms. Vella contributed a chapter, as co-author, to a fundamental Aboriginal Law handbook entitled "Aboriginal Rights Litigation" (Eds. Magnet and Dorey) (Toronto : Butterworths, 2003).
In addition, Ms. Vella has completed her role as Commission Counsel to the Ipperwash Inquiry which examined the events surrounding the shooting death of First Nations member, Dudley George, by an OPP officer during an occupation at Ipperwash Provincial Park. For more information on the Ipperwash Inquiry, go to www.ipperwashinquiry.ca. Ms. Vella was interviewed with respect to her role as Commission Counsel by the Canadian Bar Association in Inquiring Minds, to review the article click here.
Ms. Vella also successfully represented the Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Windigo First Nations Council in a precedent setting motion at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. On August 16, 2011, Chief Justice Winkler granted NAN and Windigo's request, directing that Stirland Lake (also known as Wahbon Bay Academy) and Cristal Lake residential high schools be added to the list of Indian Residential Schools, thereby entitling former students to apply for the Common Experience Payment (CEP) and the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) relating to their attendance at these schools. This was the first decision in Canada in which a court has ruled on an application to add a residential school to the list and, as such, represented an important precedent for Canada's First Nations. Click here to review Chief Justice Winkler's Reasons for Decision.
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,  2 S.C.R. 534; Jacobi v. Griffiths,  2 S.C.R. 570; K.L.B. v. British Columbia,  2 S.C.R. 403; M.B. v. British Columbia,  2 S.C.R. 477; and E.D.G. v. Hammer,  2 S.C.R. 459; P.D. v Allen,  O.J. No. 3042; Polgrain Estate v. Toronto East General Hospital (2008), 293 D.L.R. (4th) 266 (C.A.); Evans v. Sproule,  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.
She is often sought by the media for her perspective and comments on challenging sexual abuse and misconduct matters.
Ms. Vella has been selected by her peers to be on the Best Lawyers' listing of personal injury lawyers in specific recognition of her work representing survivors of sexual and institutional abuse.