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Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for CLASSE, the largest and most militant of the three main student groups organizing the Quebec student strike, poses in Montreal on May 7, 2012.

christinne muschi The Globe and Mail

A prominent figure in Quebec's student protest movement has been sentenced to 120 hours of community service for a contempt of court conviction following the rowdy events of the so-called Maple Spring.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who was the spokesman for the militant CLASSE organization during protests against proposed tuition increases, was punished for urging supporters to defy a court order.

He remained defiant: Mr. Nadeau-Dubois promised to carry through with his plan to appeal the earlier contempt verdict that drew Wednesday's sentence.

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"It's not over," he said on his Twitter feed. "Remember that my sentence will only apply if the Court of Appeal upholds the original decision. Hearing on January 22."

The sentence falls well short of the maximum penalty that could have been handed down by Quebec Superior Court, which is a $50,000 fine and a year in prison.

Supporters have rallied around Mr. Nadeau-Dubois, who says he has raised more than $100,000 in donations — all from individual contributions — to fund his appeal of the contempt verdict. His supporters argue that he's being singled out and punished for a cause they all promoted.

The charismatic Mr. Nadeau-Dubois became a media darling during the student protests, becoming perhaps the most recognized figures in the unrest that swept the province last spring and made headlines around the world.

It was one of his countless interviews that sparked his legal problems, when he told a television reporter on April 7 that it was "legitimate" for students to take necessary measures, such as creating picket lines, to ensure that democratic strike votes were respected.

Some students had sued for the right to return to school, despite declared boycotts of classes. Many of those injunctions were resisted or ignored.

Justice Denis Jacques said in his ruling that Mr. Nadeau-Dubois had certain responsibilities considering his high public profile.

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He rejected defence arguments that the student protester deserved no sentence because certain forms of rebellion and civil disobedience are socially acceptable and bring about social change.

"The respect of court rulings is directly linked to the primacy of the law and respect for the rules of society that govern us," Justice Jacques wrote.

He pointed out that there are legal means to challenge laws and court decisions, but there had been no attempt to appeal the injunctions.

"If it's true that the defendant had a symbolic power, and that part of the population saw this in him, it constitutes an aggravating factor in his call to disrespect the court injunctions," Justice Jacques wrote, adding that Mr. Nadeau-Dubois' actions had consequences.

"The defendant trivialized, before the youths on whom he exercised a strong influence, the efforts of every citizen who respects court rulings. He called on them to contravene them.

"The message to supporters that they can ignore a court order if believe they have a legitimate reason, carries serious consequences and goes directly against one of the most important fundamentals of our democracy."

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The judge said the sentence is designed to impress Mr. Nadeau-Dubois with the gravity of the infraction and to ensure he doesn't reoffend.

Renaud Poirier St-Pierre, a former media spokesman for CLASSE who was fielding questions for Mr. Nadeau-Dubois after the hearing, said money for Mr. Nadeau-Dubois' appeal continues to come in and he urged people to keep speaking out. "We're convinced we're going to win the appeal because our cause is just, we're convinced we have the arguments necessary to convince the appeal court judges."

Mr. Nadeau-Dubois was co-spokesman of CLASSE, the more radical student faction. He has repeatedly bristled at suggestions he was a leader of that movement. He said he was simply one of the people appointed by CLASSE to speak publicly about positions adopted, by consensus, at meetings of group members.

The ramifications of the student dispute were still being felt elsewhere in the province Wednesday.

Cabinet minister Pierre Duchesne came under fire for announcing a $140-million funding cut for universities so that the province could meet its zero-deficit targets. Mr. Duchesne said rectors will have to cut their budgets by five per cent during the last four months of the fiscal year.

The new PQ government has cancelled the planned tuition hikes — which would have boosted university revenues by $265 million a year.

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Interim Liberal Leader Jean-Marc Fournier accused him of putting the interests of student protesters, who were courted by the PQ in this year's election, ahead of the financial needs of universities.

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