Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois didn't incite students to break injunction, top court rules

After four years of legal proceedings, the Supreme Court of Canada has cleared former Quebec student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of contempt of court.

Court case dates back to the student protests of 2012, when Nadeau-Dubois was leader of student group

The Supreme Court of Canada has overturned a lower court ruling that found former student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois guilty of contempt of court. (Canadian Press)

After four years of legal proceedings, the Supreme Court of Canada has cleared former Quebec student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of contempt of court.

The court case relates to comments Nadeau-Dubois made in an interview with Radio-Canada during the student protests that rocked the province in 2012.

The country's top court ruled that when Nadeau-Dubois, then the leader of a hardline student organization, said it was "legitimate" to picket classes, he didn't incite students to break a court injunction obtained by a university student who wanted to ensure he could still attend his classes.

The majority decision, issued Thursday, found it was never proven that Nadeau-Dubois's comments specifically referenced the injunction.

The judges also said that while Nadeau-Dubois referred to picket lines, he never explicitly urged students to block classes.

During a morning news conference, Nadeau-Dubois said he was more stressed Thursday morning than he ever was during the protests and that a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

He was comforted, he said, by the fact the judges didn't see his comments as an affront to the injunction.

"This morning's victory isn't my victory. It's a victory for citizen movements, a victory for social movements, a victory for the spokespeople for those movements," he said.

"It's bigger than me. It's a good day for democracy."

The background

In May 2012, with tensions high in Quebec, Laval University student Jean-François Morasse obtained an injunction to make sure he would able to attend his classes at the school.

Weeks later, Nadeau-Dubois, then the spokesman for the student group CLASSE, told Radio-Canada it was "legitimate" for students to picket classrooms.

"We find it perfectly legitimate for people to do what they have to do to enforce the strike vote, and if that takes picket lines, we think it's a perfectly legitimate way to do it," he said.

The Quebec student protests lasted for months in 2012.

Morasse contended that Nadeau-Dubois's comments incited students to break the court-ordered injunction and constituted contempt of court.

In November 2012, a Quebec Superior Court judge agreed and Nadeau-Dubois was sentenced to 120 hours of community service.

Appeal to the top court

However, in January 2015, Quebec's Court of Appeal overturned that ruling. Three justices ruled in favour of Nadeau-Dubois, and he was acquitted.

Morasse sought leave to appeal the decision to the top court, which was granted last October.

Writing for the majority, Justices Clément Gascon and Rosalie Abella said when it came to Nadeau-Dubois's comments, picketing falls short of blocking access to classes, which would have contravened the injunction. 

"At most, merely saying that picketing was legitimate, even if understood as equivalent to barring access, fell far short of encouraging others to engage in unlawful conduct," the ruling reads.

In an interview with Radio-Canada, Morasse said Thursday he was proud of what he accomplished.

"It was a battle that many of us waged and we got a lot of financing and support. The simple fact to have been heard by the Supreme Court of Canada is a victory," he said.

Nadeau-Dubois said he never took the proceedings personally and therefore doesn't hold anything against Morasse.

He said he believes both sides were fighting for what they believe in.