Pilot sentenced to 7 years for causing major power outage in southern Quebec

Normand Dubé, 56, was found guilty of three counts of mischief after damaging high-voltage lines that carried power from James Bay to the Montreal region in December 2014.

Damage to power grid in December 2014 cut power to more than 180,000 customers

Normand Dubé arrives for his sentencing, Monday in Saint-Jérôme, Que. Dubé was sentenced to seven years in prison for three counts of mischief. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

A Quebec pilot has been sentenced to seven years behind bars for vandalizing Hydro-Québec's power grid in the Laurentians four years ago — vandalism that cut power to more than 180,000 customers.

In September, Normand Dubé, 56, was found guilty of three counts of mischief after damaging high-voltage lines that carried power from James Bay to the Montreal region on Dec. 4, 2014. 

Quebec court Judge Paul Chevalier handed down the sentence Monday morning at the Saint-Jérôme courthouse.

Dubé entered a not guilty plea, saying he didn't have the means or knowledge to cause a breakdown of such magnitude, but the judge disagreed.

"The modus operandi of his crime shows that he carefully prepared it and did not act impulsively,'' Chevalier said during the sentencing. "The motive held by the court — vengeance — underlines his moral culpability.''

The details of how Dubé caused such extensive damage are under a publication ban as a matter of national security, but the blackout affected customers well beyond Montreal, reaching as far as the United States and Ontario.

It took the Crown corporation two days to repair the damage.

The Crown had argued the pilot deserved an exemplary, 10-year sentence for an act of sabotage that nearly crippled the province's power grid.

Regardless, prosecutor Steve Baribeau said he was satisfied with the judge's decision.

"The message to take from this judgment is that we can't attack with impunity in Canada a public service with a motivation like vengeance and paralyze a system like hydroelectricity,'' he said.

Dubé, who has no criminal history, was immediately taken into custody after sentencing. His lawyer, Mario Lavigne, said he plans to appeal the verdict and sentence and seek bail for his client. 

"The appeal will relate to two elements: The sentence and the imposed time of detention," Lavigne told reporters.

The Crown said a hearing on the defence request is expected before the Quebec Court of Appeal on Thursday.

Motivated by dispute with power company

Dubé was nicknamed "the pilot of the stars," as he often flew celebrity passengers. An inventor and entrepreneur, he owns an aviation company in his hometown of Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Que., about 30 kilometres north of downtown Montreal.

The case is linked to a long-standing dispute between Hydro-Québec and Dubé over an easement owned by the Crown corporation on Dubé's land. 

Dubé was known for flying celebrity passengers on his planes. (Radio-Canada)

According to the prosecution, Dubé also blamed the public utility for his tax problems.

A retired Hydro-Québec executive, Pierre Paquet, testified during the sentencing that the outage cost the public utility $28.6 million — a cost assumed by all Quebec taxpayers.

The Crown corporation is suing Dubé to recoup the costs.

With files from Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press