Lake Megantic - The mood at the cafes and bars in Lake Megantic Friday night was subdued, as the news began to sink in that the three railway employees who faced criminal charges in the rail disaster that killed 47 people here in July of 2013 had been found not guilty.
Few interviewed Friday night expressed surprise at the verdict, and most said they never thought the three Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) employees, Thomas Harding, Richard Labrie, and Jean Demaitre, should have faced criminal negligence charges in the first place.
"Everybody I talked to said they were scapegoats," said Jean-Guy Rancour, who was visiting his hometown Friday night, dining with his wife at the rebuilt and relocated Musi-Cafe.
The original Musi-Cafe was destroyed, along with much of the town's downtown area, when the runaway train carrying crude oil hurtled down a hill and exploded in the worst railway disaster in Canada's history.
Rancour said he knew one of the victims when he was young, and mourns the devastating effect the tragedy has had on his hometown.
"This event was the result of a succession of errors by a lot of people, starting with the government that kept loosening the safety rules," he said.
"One day, it was bound to happen."
La Gare'nison, a new microbrewery pub in town, was busy Friday night, but the mood was not one of celebration.
"Justice was done," said one man who declined to give his name but said he lost several friends in the disaster.
"It was human error. It was an accident."
"Those guys were not the most guilty parties," said another bar patron.
"The real culprits were the ministry of transportation and MMA. That train was transporting dangerous material and there was no employee on it. It is so simple. There should have been somebody on that train 24 hours a day."
He said the railway workers were not blameless, but do not belong in jail.
"Those guys bear a certain responsibility, not criminal, but they do bear some responsibility."
Jean St-Pierre, who co-manages the Hotel-Motel Le Chateau, said few people in the town were expecting a guilty verdict.
"Ever since those guys were charged, I haven't heard one person in Lake Megantic say they thought these three guys should be criminally charged or should bear criminal responsibility for the accident. I know (personally) three or four people who lost loved ones, and even they don't think the railway employees should be blamed."
"From all that I read and heard, I couldn't see any criminal intention, or any really unreasonable action that would justify criminal charges," St-Pierre added.
But some residents did express frustration and anger at the verdicts.
"It is unacceptable. This is not justice," Raymond Lafontaine, who lost a son, two daughters-in-law, and an employee in the disaster, told Radio Canada.
"When I heard the verdict it hurt me. It hurt me to lose members of my family, and learn there is no guilty party. It is not right. I don't want to be mean. But if we allow things to be left like this, nobody going forward will take responsibility for things. It doesn't make sense. It seems like you can not do your job, you can do whatever you like, you won't be punished. If this is how we deal with things in Quebec, we are in big trouble."