Morasse v Nadeau-Dubois 2016 SCC 44
From Ad IDEM / CMLA
A majority of the court dismissed the appeal and held that a conviction for contempt should only be entered where it is genuinely necessary to safeguard the administration of justice.
In the spring of 2012, massive and sustained student protests took place in the province of Quebec over the issue of proposed increases in university tuition fees. The increases were announced as part of the budget introduced by the provincial government. Several student organizations which were opposed to the increases organized responsive protests.
The protests paralyzed several post-secondary institutions. Classes at several institutions were cancelled. Student organizations held votes declaring themselves to be “on strike”. Picket lines were formed at several universities and CEGEPs. Students and teachers were prevented from entering the buildings in which classes were to be held. As a result, several injunctions were sought to restrict these blockages and help ensure the continuation of the school year.
At the time, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois was the spokesperson for the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE). As one of the most active student organizations in the province, the CLASSE organized protests and picket lines in various post-secondary institutions.
At the height of the protests, Jean-François Morasse was a student in his final year at Université Laval’s Faculty of Planning, Architecture, Arts and Design, completing a certificate in visual arts (arts plastiques). The Association des étudiants en arts plastiques de l’Université Laval (ASETAP), the organization representing students in that program, held a strike vote and organized protests. On February 29, 2012, picket lines were erected to block the entrance to the building where Mr. Morasse’s classes were held.
In the context of civil proceedings that he instituted against Université Laval, ASETAP and another student organization, Mr. Morasse obtained a provisional interlocutory injunction on April 12, 2012 for a 10-day period. The injunction mandated free access to the facilities in which classes for the visual arts program were held. It also ordered all persons who were then boycotting classes to refrain from obstructing or otherwise blocking access to classes by way of intimidation or through other actions likely to have this effect.
On April 26, 2012, Mr. Morasse brought an application to renew the injunction. On May 2, 2012, Émond J. renewed the injunction through a safeguard order valid until September 14, 2012. His order reaffirmed the prohibition to obstruct or otherwise prevent access to classes, but made no specific reference to picketing generally.
Eleven days later, on May 13, 2012, Mr. Nadeau-Dubois was interviewed by RDI, CBC’s French television news network, after one CEGEP, the Collège de Rosemont, resumed its regular schedule of classes upon being ordered to do so by the Superior Court. Appearing with him was Léo Bureau-Blouin, head of the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, a coalition representing student unions in Quebec’s CEGEPs and private colleges. The interview was broadcast live throughout the province.
On May 15, 2012, Mr. Morasse, acting under art. 53 of the Code of Civil Procedure,6 filed a motion for contempt against Mr. Nadeau-Dubois for his comments in the interview. In this motion filed in his pending proceedings against Université Laval and ASETAP, Mr. Morasse claimed that Mr. Nadeau-Dubois’ comments violated Émond J.’s May 2nd order.
On the merits of the contempt motion, Jacques J. concluded that because Émond J.’s order had not been served on Mr. Nadeau-Dubois, he could not be found guilty of contempt of court under art. 761. However, he found him guilty under that part of art. 50 para. 1, which creates the offence of contempt for acts that interfere with the authority or dignity of the court.
The Quebec Court of Appeal unanimously allowed the appeal. Dufresne J.A., writing for the court, concluded that the statements made during the television interview fell short of establishing that Mr. Nadeau-Dubois knew of the existence and content of Émond J.’s order.
The Quebec Court of Appeal concluded that the mens rea was not met because it was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Nadeau-Dubois knew of the May 2nd injunction. In those circumstances, it would be improper to impute an intention to Mr. Nadeau-Dubois to encourage others to breach an order of which he had no knowledge. As for the actus reus, the court found that in any event, the words spoken were ambiguous, and that it could not therefore conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that these words incited or encouraged persons to violate the injunction. The conviction and sentence were consequently set aside and an acquittal entered.
In the SCC, the majority agreed with the conclusions of the Court of Appeal and states that it was required to determine whether a contempt charge brought by a private citizen against another individual, met the strict procedural and substantive safeguards required by law to ensure that the liberty interests of those accused of contempt were fully protected. In their view, it did not.