Montreal’s blue collar union and its controversial president and executives were sentenced to pay $103,000, the maximum fine allowable, for contempt of court after organizing an illegal one-day strike in spite of an injunction issued by a labour tribunal the previous day.
The stern ruling, one of only a handful over the past decade that have found Quebec unions guilty of contempt of court, is intended to send a harsh warning to the labour movement that the courts will not tolerate willful blindness, according to labour lawyers.
A former Canadian student activist best known for his role during the 2012 Quebec student protests won an appeal reversing his contempt of court conviction after the Quebec Court of Appeal held that individuals have the right to hold strongly held convictions even in the face of a court order.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the former spokesman of the major student organization CLASSE, was found guilty three years ago of inciting students during a television interview to strike and ignore a court order that guaranteed students access to their classrooms during the student conflict in the spring of 2012 when thousands took to the streets to protest planned tuition fee increases. He was sentenced to 120 hours of community service, which was thrown out.
“Now we have a ruling which says that one of the things to be considered when it comes to verbal contempt of court is whether freedom of expression is threatened, and it is particularly important in matters where a person expresses disagreement with a judgment,” said Julius Grey, a leading civil libertarian and human rights advocate.
The use of contempt of court in civil proceedings will likely diminish over time as judges begin to exercise discretionary powers to redress abuse of process.