OTTAWA – It was in December 2014 that Hydro-Quebec, Canada's largest utility company, was hit by a severe blackout early in the winter. The traffic lights went dark and more than 188,000 customers lost their power, including the McGill University Health Center in Montreal.
The utility was forced to avoid system-wide failure. Electricity exports to the northeastern United States have been cut. Industrial users were asked to reduce production and the province's utilities were required to buy emergency power from neighboring utilities. The utility costs were estimated at $ 22 million.
However, unlike most of these incidents, the blackout was not weather related or an act of God. A court in Quebec has learned that the blackout was due to a sabotage by Normand Dube, a 56-year-old pilot and inventor who has a grudge against the utility company and limped two small power lines with a small plane. Dube was convicted in September on three counts of charges.
Dube was in court this week in St. Jerome, Quebec, for conducting a hearing in the unusual trial, many of which were held in secret for national security reasons. The prosecution argued that the self-described "Pilot to the Stars" – several Quebec entertainers among his clients – was to receive ten years in prison for the attack.
Prosecutor Steve Baribeau told the court that the pilot had attacked "the neck and spine" of the Hydro Quebec power grid, the Canadian press said.
"What could be a worse way to destabilize a society than to reduce power on such a large scale?" Argued Baribeau.
The exact method by which Dube sabotages the pipelines that carry electricity from dams in northern Quebec is unknown, as much of the testimony was banned during the 27-day trial. The prosecutor's office demanded a ban on protecting national security and presumably discouraging imitators.
The 24-page verdict has also been revised, with references to the method used to disable the darkened rows. Judge Paul Chevalier, however, quoted an expert from the Canadian National Research Council as saying that the technique had been used in conflicts in Iraq, Kosovo and Serbia and was "easily accessible on the Internet."
A close reading of the verdict indicates that unidentified material from the aircraft was dropped on the lines in three places on the same day, resulting in short circuits that ricocheted off the Hydro Quebec network.
It is known that Dube had a long-standing dispute with Hydro-Quebec over the utilities' efforts to use power lines that run through the land he owned. The judge described the dispute in his judgment as "a deep grudge" against the benefits.
Although Dube has just graduated from high school, he is a successful inventor. He designed a single-engine aircraft called Aerocruiser and built a successful general aviation business.
He also invented a solar collector system and a machine for eliminating insects that infest commercial greenhouses growing tomatoes, the judge said.
Baribeau told The Post that Hydro-Quebec initially had no idea what had caused the power outage. However, two loggers near Mirabel Airport, north of Montreal, saw a small plane overflowing the affected power lines and their exploding eyes. The men called the aid program and the police were called.
Armed with a description of the aircraft, an Aerocruiser designed by Dube, the police received detailed radar information from Nav Canada, which operates the country's air traffic control system. Dube's plane was identified as the culprit, Baribeau said.
"There was no ambiguity," Baribeau told the Post. "At the time there was no other plane in the area."
Dubes lawyer told the court that his client could not be considered a terrorist because he did not follow any political or religious ideology. Dube admitted to having flown over the power lines the day of the power failure, but refused to sabotage.
Meanwhile, the pilot is facing a lawsuit by Hydro-Quebec, which wants to catch up with the millions lost by the blackout. Dube is also confronted with separate charges arising out of a series of disputes with community officials over real estate valuations. In one case, a municipal employee's house was destroyed by fire, and another official fell victim to a Molotov cocktail attack.
The prosecutor also requested that the judge seize Dube's plane.
Dube said he wants to appeal against his conviction. The judge decides on the punishment of Dube in the sabotage case on 10 December.