Sherbrooke Quebec - A Quebec Superior Court judge rejected a defence motion last December to acquit two of the men indicted for their roles in the Lake Megantic rail disaster.
However, Justice Gaetan Dumas acknowledged the Crown had a flimsy case against former Montreal Maine & Atlantic (MMA) railway traffic controller Richard Labrie, 59, and ex-MMA operations manager Jean Demaitre, 53.
Along with former locomotive engineer Tom Harding, 56, they are each charged with criminal negligence causing the deaths of 47 people.
"I'm aware the evidence is weak," Dumas told the court in the absence of the jury on 11 Dec 2017.
"However, it's not up to me to evaluate it. That's the jury's job."
Now that the jury in the marathon trial is sequestered and is beginning its deliberations, CBC News is free to report on arguments and motions that had been subject to a publication ban.
Throughout the three-month trial, the Crown attempted to demonstrate that, as Harding's supervisors the night of the disaster, Labrie and Demaitre hadn't done their jobs.
"Their failure to take the appropriate measures to prevent the train from moving was a key cause of the derailment," prosecutor Veronique Beauchamp argued.
After hearing from the Crown's 31 witnesses over more than two months, however, lawyers for Labrie and Demaitre argued the Crown hadn't met the burden of proof of the case against their clients.
Demaitre's lawyer, Gaetan Bourassa, said there was no rule in effect in July 2013 that required locomotive engineers to inform their supervisors that a train had been properly secured.
As a result, Bourassa told the judge, his client had no reason to wonder if Harding had engaged a sufficient number of handbrakes when he left the 73 car fuel train idling at Nantes, 13 kilometres from downtown Lake Megantic.
Labrie's lawyer, Guy Poupart, argued in the case of his client, not a single Crown witness testified that the railway traffic controller was supposed to have been informed by a locomotive engineer "that he was now ready to leave the site where the train was secured."
Dumas ultimately rejected the defence motion for a directed verdict to acquit the two men.
"It's not up to the judge to examine the quality of the evidence," he said, citing legal precedents.
"It's the jury's job to determine if Demaitre and Labrie... took steps to avoid bodily harm to other people."
Dumas, who is known for his direct manner and sometimes colourful speech, made no secret of his frustration with legal counsel, especially with the Crown, when the jury was not present.
He said at times, getting answers to key questions from the prosecution was "like pulling teeth."
"Four Crown prosecutors have worked full time on this case for three years," he said at one point.
"That's the equivalent of 12 lawyer-years. I can tell you had I had 12 years on one file, I would have been able to respond to questions about it."
Dumas cited the example of the fire in the smokestack of the lead locomotive, put out by local firefighters called to the train, which had been left idling in Nantes two hours before the derailment.
No Crown witness could explain what caused the fire.
"It's not up to the jury to play wizard," Dumas said.
The Crown had also reproached Demaitre for not doing anything when he learned there was a mechanical problem with the lead locomotive a few hours before Harding drove the convoy to Nantes on 5 Jul 2013.
"If you're trying to suggest (to the jury) that changing the locomotive would have prevented the accident, that's not what caused the accident," Dumas chided the prosecution.
He continued, sarcastically, "Mr. Demaitre's mother isn't charged! If she hadn't brought him into the world, this wouldn't have happened."
The trial of the ex-MMA employees began more than two years after the federal Transportation Safety Board (TSB) issued its report on the Lake Megantic tragedy, concluding, "no one individual, a single action, or a single factor" caused the derailment.
The TSB report left no doubt about problems with the MMA railway company, however.
"The TSB found MMA was a company with a weak safety culture that did not have a functioning safety management system to manage risks," the agency said.
The TSB report identified 18 causes of, and factors contributing to, the accident, including gaps in training, employee monitoring, and maintenance practices at MMA, a failure by Transport Canada to audit the railway often or thoroughly enough, and the fact that the rail line between Nantes and Lake Megantic is the steepest slope in Quebec, and the second-steepest in Canada.