The Quebec Court of Appeal has reversed a lower court judge’s decision made nearly two years ago that acquitted the leader of the far-right group Atalante on all the charges he faced after the group stormed the Montreal offices of Vice Québec.
Instead of ordering a new trial for Raphaël Lévesque, 38, the appellate court found him guilty of breaking and entering and mischief, and ordered that his case return to Quebec Court so he can be sentenced.
In the 26-page decision released on Tuesday, Superior Court Justice Guy Gagnon wrote that Quebec Court Judge Joëlle Roy “had no other choice but to conclude that” Lévesque was guilty of breaking and entering the online magazine’s offices with the attempt to commit a crime . Gagnon wrote the decision on behalf of the other two judges who heard the appeal. All three were unanimous in the decision that Roy “made three errors in law” in her decision to acquit the accused on the breaking-and-entering charge.
On May 23, 2018, Lévesque and six masked men entered the Montreal offices of Vice Québec, which have since closed, and approached reporter Simon Coutu at his desk. Lévesque told Coutu that he had “started a war” and gave him a small trophy filled with cigarette butts for “garbage media.” The six masked men tossed clown noses and leaflets on the floor of the newsroom before leaving.
During the trial, Coutu, who had previously reported on the far-right group, and other witnesses who were in Vice’s offices when the seven men stormed in, said they felt intimidated by what happened.
On June 10, 2020, Roy delivered her decision and acquitted Lévesque on all four of the charges he faced; breaking and entering, mischief, criminal harassment and intimidation. She wrote that “the accused had no intention to intimidate in any way.”
The Quebec Court of Appeal ruled that one error Roy made was to acquit Lévesque because the message he and the other men delivered to Coutu was done “peacefully.” Gagnon highlighted a section of the Criminal Code that states this does not matter.
“In other words, behavior that is peaceful or exempt from aggression does not constitute an excuse to enter into a place,” Gagnon wrote.
The second mistake Roy made, Gagnon wrote, was to interpret what Lévesque did as merely “expressing his opinion” and was therefore protected by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That would have been the case if Lévesque expressed his opinion of him in a public place, Gagnon wrote, but Vice Québec’s offices were private.
The third error involved how Roy acquired Lévesque on the mischief charge by interpreting what he did as “wanting to deliver a message, communicate information.”
The decision released on Tuesday represents the second time in two years that a ruling by Roy has been reversed by the Quebec Court of Appeal in a high-profile case. In March 2020, Quebec’s highest court quashed Roy’s verdict in a case where she found a Sûreté du Québec officer guilty of manslaughter for fatally shooting a 17-year-old boy in a town in the Laurentians.
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