MMA train engineer Tom Harding in handcuffs - Date unknown Anonymous Photographer.
28 August 2014
Charges Against Two in Lake Megantic Train Derailment Should be Dropped
Montreal Quebec - The crown prosecutor should drop charges against two of the rail workers arrested in connection with the fatal Lake Megantic derailment, their lawyers said Thursday.
The lawyers, who represent train engineer Thomas Harding and rail-traffic controller Richard Labrie, say a Transportation Safety Board report into the causes of the accident shows that not one person is responsible for the crash.
The report, released last week, lays some blame on Harding and his colleagues but also focuses on a weak culture of safety management at Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) and poor supervision from Transport Canada.
Despite the investigation's conclusions, Labrie, Harding, and Jean Demaitre, MMA's director of train operations, each face a potential life sentence after they were each charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence in May.
Thomas Walsh, Harding's lawyer, argues that Transport Canada and MMA created an environment where the Lake Megantic tragedy was simply "an accident waiting to happen."
"Criminal negligence is defined as a wanton, careless, disregard for the life and security of other people," said Marc-Antoine Cloutier, Labrie's union-funded lawyer.
"There was no criminal negligence here. There was a series of lapses, of infractions under the supervision of Transport Canada and MMA. These lapses, this lax attitude, led to the accident and that's what the report shows us. Any other worker, placed in the same circumstances, given the same directions, facing the same lax attitude at Transport Canada would have done exactly the same as my client."
Walsh pointed to a decision by Transport Canada that allowed MMA to transport dangerous goods with only one train crewman instead of two to reinforce Cloutier's claims.
The lawyers also laid blame on MMA chairman Ed Burkhardt, whose company had an accident rate nearly three times higher than the U.S. national average.
Burkhardt was named in several class-action lawsuits filed by the 47 victims' families but hasn't been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
Perhaps the harshest criticism came from Syndicat des Metallos union president Daniel Roy, who stopped just short of blaming the derailment on the Harper Government.
While speaking to reporters Thursday, Roy brandished a newspaper with Denis Lebel's picture on it and began deriding the former Transport Minister.
"Denis Lebel says he's the face of the Conservatives in Quebec, well I say he's the face of this tragedy," Roy said, pointing to Lebel's photo.
"The government is washing its hands of this, it doesn't even have the humility, the decency, to recognize its responsibility in this. Transport Minister Lisa Raitt hadn't even finished reading the report before blaming the workers."
The union has raised tens of thousands of dollars to help foot Labrie and Harding's legal fees.
Demaitre is not covered by the union because he was a manager at the now-defunct MMA.
The TSB report found that while parking the ill-fated train just hours before the derailment, Harding did not apply enough hand brakes.
The longtime engineer also didn't effectively test the locomotive's brakes before retiring near Lake Megantic.
When a fire broke out on the unattended freight train, first responders extinguished it and turned off the main engine.
With the engine off and the locomotive badly damaged by the fire, its main hydraulic brake system lost pressure and soon the entire weight of the train rested on its hand brakes.
The brakes did not have enough force to keep the train stopped, sending the train barrelling into downtown Lake Megantic where it derailed and exploded, killing 47 people.
Walsh does not dispute the report's findings, which came after almost 13 months of gathering evidence.
He says his client recognizes and regrets his role in the events that led to the crash, but that he alone shouldn't be held accountable.