Why We Need A Real Public Inquiry Into The Causes Of The Lac-Mégantic Wreck

Québec National Assembly is right to call for judicial inquiry into the Lac-Mégantic disaster

Picture taken from a Sûreté du Québec helicopter of Lac-Mégantic, the day of the derailment, July 6, 2013. Photo: Sûreté du Québec/Wikimedia Commons

On April 11, following the failure of the criminal proceedings to shed significant light on underlying causes and culpability behind the Lac-Mégantic disaster, the Québec National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution calling on the federal government to hold a Commission of Inquiry.

Transport Minister Mark Garneau responded immediately that an inquiry was out of the question. His reason: there have been several investigations notably the Transportation Safety Board [TSB] report, which he deemed to be the last word on the tragedy.

This is simply not true. The TSB report, while important, is no substitute for a Commission of Inquiry. It is limited in scope, cannot assign blame, and unlike a public inquiry, is not able to compel testimony from major players in public, under oath, and subject to cross-examination.

There are many unanswered questions about what happened and who was responsible. The citizens of Lac-Mégantic are owed the full story behind the event that so grievously affected their lives.

The TSB report listed 18 causes and contributing factors. The vast majority related to the company itself and its employees. Only one cause related to Transport Canada headquarters, where all major regulatory decisions were made: that it was aware of significant operational changes by the company and did not provide the necessary oversight of these changes. This vaguely worded cause obscures more than it elucidates about Transport Canada’s role.

More troubling: the preliminary [non-published] version of the report listed as a cause Transport Canada’s granting permission to the company, MMA, to run its oil trains with a single crewmember. This cause was erased from the final report. Why? Who wanted it removed? What influence did they exert? Was there political interference? Was the TSB’s independence compromised?

Who within Transport Canada made the decision to allow this delinquent company to operate single person crews, despite major opposition within Transport Canada itself? Is there a deeper organizational dysfunction within the Department and a much too cozy relationship with the railways?

All the legal actions were settled behind closed doors without going to trial, except for the criminal case against the three front-line workers. And what qualified as admissible evidence in that trial was so limited as to exclude even the TSB report.

The only people who testified were low-level company employees, a government inspector and police investigators. No company executives, no senior government officials; no politicians responsible for overall regulatory policy; no industry leaders — were compelled to testify.

Powerful government insiders and industry players have an interest keeping in the whole truth about the role of a deficient regulatory oversight regime and company self-regulation in the disaster, from becoming public.

Transportation of diluted bitumen by rail in Canada is on the increase. The International Energy Association estimates traffic will double over the next two years. Given the uncertainty surrounding Kinder Morgan, the increase could be substantially prolonged.

The prime minister’s case for pipelines is based in part that they are safer than rail. The validity of this assertion aside, massive oil trains will continue to rumble through cities and towns across the country for years to come, whether or not more pipelines are built.

There have been modest improvements in rail safety since Lac-Mégantic. However, major risks remain. A Commission of Inquiry can shed light on many unanswered questions about what went wrong at senior levels of government and industry that led to the worst human and environmental railway tragedy in modern Canadian history; and in doing so lead to policy change essential for improving rail safety and helping to reduce the chances of a recurrence.

Former executive director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Bruce Campbell was awarded a Law foundation of Ontario Fellowship for his work on Lac-Mégantic. He spent 2016 as a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa law faculty. He is currently writing a book on the tragedy.

Photo: Sûreté du Québec/Wikimedia Commons

 

Copyright © 2001-2018 the authors

The Quebec National Assembly Calls For A Public Commission Of Inquiry

Quebec MNAs call for public commission of inquiry into Lac-Mégantic disaster

PQ motion will be sent to Ottawa for consideration

Downtown Lac-Mégantic in Quebec was ablaze on July 6, 2013, after a runaway train loaded with crude oil derailed, exploded and caught fire. (Radio-Canada)

The Quebec National Assembly is calling on the federal government to launch a public commission of inquiry into the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster as soon as possible.

Quebec MNAs adopted the Parti Québécois motion Wednesday morning, with all 115 members present in the chamber offering their unanimous support.

The motion will now be sent to Ottawa for consideration.

Nicolas Marceau, MNA for Rousseau, tabled the motion along with members from all political parties represented in the legislature, including Liberal Mégantic MNA Ghislain Bolduc.

Marceau was applauded by his colleagues after reading the motion.

Past calls for a commission of inquiry

Lac-Mégantic residents had called for a commission of inquiry into the disaster — and rail safety more broadly — in January, after three former employees of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic company were acquitted on charges of criminal negligence causing death.

In May 2015, Lac-Mégantic City Council passed a resolution calling on the federal government to hold an independent public inquiry.

Despite pressure from residents, the then federal government of Stephen Harper rejected the request.

The Transportation Safety Board conducted a technical investigation into the disaster. In its report published in August 2014, the board said, “Transport Canada must take on a more hands-on role” to ensure that rail safety management systems are working effectively.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada conducted a technical investigation into the derailment, but Lac-Mégantic residents want to see a full public inquiry. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Robert Bellefleur, a spokesperson for the Lac-Mégantic citizens’ coalition for rail safety, said a commission of inquiry would allow the government to identify rail safety risks and adjust regulations accordingly.

“It’s the only way to go through all the elements that led to this disaster. It’s not for fun — it’s for the purpose of preventing others elsewhere in Canada,” Bellefleur said in French.

“A broader investigation is absolutely essential so that Transport Canada can again play its real role as a watchdog for rail safety in Canada.”

Reconstruction continues

In July 2013, the federal government committed $60 million to support response and recovery efforts in Lac-Mégantic. That money including $35 million for the government’s economic recovery initiative.

The initiative provided direct assistance for the town’s reconstruction as well as support for businesses in the community.

While there is still reconstruction work to be done, the urgent needs resulting from the accident have been addressed, according to a midterm evaluation of the initiative published last month by Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions.

More Come Out Against The Decision To Let The MMA Evade Justice

The Canadian Government Never Seriously Intended To Hold the Railroad Accountable For The Policy Driven Wreck

CBC News:

MMA will not stand trial for criminal negligence in Lac-Mégantic rail disaster

Following acquittals of 3 ex-MMA employees, Crown concludes there’s not enough evidence to try railway company

Smoke rises from railway tanker cars that exploded and caught fire after a runaway train operated by the now-bankrupt Montreal, Maine and Atlantic railway derailed in downtown Lac-Megantic, Que., on July 6, 2013. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The defunct railway company at the heart of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic disaster will not have to stand trial for criminal negligence causing death, Quebec’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) has confirmed.

Following the acquittals of three former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) employees on charges of criminal negligence causing 47 deaths, the DPCP said it no longer believes there is enough evidence to obtain a guilty verdict against MMA, which operated the train.

According to prosecutor Marie-Ève Phaneuf, the provisions in the Criminal Code that cover the criminal liability of companies in cases of alleged negligence are based on the behaviour of the company’s employees.

“With their verdict, the jurors sent a message that, by their assessment, the company’s agents had not behaved in a manner that markedly deviated from the standard of care that a reasonable person would have adopted under the same circumstances,” Phaneuf said.

This decision puts an end to criminal proceedings in connection with the rail disaster that occurred early in the morning of July 6, 2013 when the runaway train derailed, triggering the explosion of several tankers carrying highly volatile crude oil and turning downtown Lac-Mégantic into an inferno. Forty-seven people were killed.

Defence lawyer unsurprised by decision

For Tom Walsh, the lawyer who represented acquitted MMA locomotive engineer Tom Harding, the Crown’s decision to skip the trial was a predictable one that reflects the reactive nature of cases such as these.

“The Crown should have gone after the company first to prove that they were serious in accusing them in the first place,” Walsh told CBC Breakaway’s Saroja Coelho.

He argued that if the prosecutors were seriously thinking about accountability, they would have aimed their criminal prosecutions at the senior officers of the company who made the decisions that resulted in the tragedy.

“It’s been sort of traditional in situations like this that the guy down at the end of the ladder … is held totally responsible for the whole of the situation,” Walsh said.

He said a change of perspective and culture is needed in order to change things.

“There’s only one lesson, and it’s prevention with a capital P,” he said.

With files from Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press

Crown won’t appeal acquittals in Lac-Mégantic train disaster case!

Tom Harding, Richard Labrie, Jean Demaître cleared of criminal negligence causing 47 deaths

CBC News Posted: Feb 16, 2018 3:35 PM ET Last Updated: Feb 16, 2018 4:49 PM ET

Train engineer Thomas Harding was unable to speak to reporters  after hearing the verdict in Sherbrooke, Que., on Jan. 19, 2018.

Train engineer Thomas Harding was unable to speak to reporters after hearing the verdict in Sherbrooke, Que., on Jan. 19, 2018. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Quebec’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) will not appeal the not-guilty verdicts reached by the jury in the trial of three former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic rail workers for their role in the 2013 derailment and explosions in Lac-Mégantic, Que.

The DPCP announced its decision in a statement on Friday, saying it had carefully reviewed the questions of law pertaining to the case.

“The prosecutors concluded that in the best interest of the public, the case would not be appealed,” said DPCP spokesperson Jean Pascal Boucher.

Boucher said prosecutors had presented all the admissible documents in court and had called on more than thirty witnesses.

On Jan. 19, after a four-month trial and nine days of deliberations, jurors acquitted the three former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) railway employees charged with criminal negligence causing 47 deaths.

Locomotive engineer Tom Harding, 56, rail traffic controller Richard Labrie, 59, and operations manager Jean Demaître, 53, were indicted for their roles in the derailment of a runaway fuel train early on July 6, 2013.

Several tankers carrying highly volatile crude oil exploded, turning downtown Lac-Mégantic into an inferno and killing 47 people.​

Class-action suit still looming

Harding’s defence lawyer, Charles Shearson, says he spoke with his client on Friday after the Crown released its statement.

“He is relieved to be able to put, at least the whole criminal process, behind him and to be able to move forward,” said Shearson.

Tom Harding 1

Tom Harding, left, with his legal team, Charles Shearson and Tom Walsh, at the Sherbrooke courthouse during the trial. (Alison Brunette/CBC)

He said an appeal would have been surprising given the trial was before a jury.

“There would have had to be an error in the directives or in a preliminary decision by his honourable Justice Dumas,” he said.

Tom Harding is still a defendant in a class-action lawsuit filed against his former employer, MMA, which has since gone bankrupt, as well as Canadian Pacific.

Shearson says since it is a civil suit, it would not carry any criminal charges. No date has been set.

Drop ALL the Charges NOW! Rail Safety Requires No Scapegoating.

On Feb 5, 2018, Canadian railroaders Tom Harding and Richard Labrie are ordered back to court to face addition federal charges, even after being acquitted in a 3 month frame up trial related to the Lac-Mégantic oil train wreck of 2013.

 

Set up to fail!  Every danger was put in place by out-of-control railroad managers and policy makers, while the government looked away. None of those dangers was created on July 6, 2013. They were all in place long before that and part of a system and a culture of recklessness.  But no owners or top manager decision makers are ever going to face trial.  They are actually free and running trains around the world right this minute.

 

The continued targeting of Harding and Labrie is part of the ongoing attempt by the Canadian government to save face and divert attention away from worldwide calls for a real investigation of who set up the dangerous factors that killed 47 and destroyed the downtown.

The charges now being prosecuted under the Railway Safety Act and the Fisheries Act are part of an ominous recent move to criminalize workplace rules which has been a long time goal of employers who wish to shift all liability onto their work forces.  They also represent a significant abuse of power by the government in this case, since a jury has already acquitted the two.

The essence of why real rail safety requires that the Canadian government must drop ALL the Charges NOW.

Urgent: Action for Rail Safety is needed

This is no way to get rail safety

February 5, 2018, acquitted Lac-Mégantic rail workers Tom Harding and Richard Labrie must return to the Québec courthouse to face additional charges from the Canadian Ministry of Justice.  Despite being acquitted of all criminal charges after a 3 month trail on January 19th, they continue to face the possibility of jail time and fines connected with the campaign by the government to hold them responsible, while giving a free pass to the US based owners and top managers of the Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railroad.

The trial and previous investigations have made clear that all the critical factors causing the wreck were in place long before Harding and Labrie went to work on July 5, 2013.

 

It’s Time To Drop ALL Charges Against Harding and Labrie

What even the Federal Crown prosecutors privately admit. The wreck was inevitable and it wasn’t because of handbrakes.

They had a criminal trial instead of a real commission of inquiry.  That’s no way to find out the truth about the causes of the wreck.

Time to drop ALL charges against Harding and Labrie and get serious about the dangerous practices.

Statement of the Harding Labrie Defense Committee on the Verdict

 

Press Release

Acquittal of Rail Workers in Lac-Mégantic Trial “one step towards real rail safety.”

Washington DC, January 19, 2018:

The attempt to blame railroad workers Tom Harding and Richard Labrie for the tragic 2013 Lac-Mégantic Québec wreck that took 47 lives ended today after 9 days of deliberations with “not guilty” verdicts on the charge of Criminal Negligence Resulting in Death and other lesser charges. Supervisor Jean DeMaître was also acquitted.

“This is the right verdict, but it does not close the case. It is just one step towards real rail safety,” said veteran train engineer and wreck investigator Fritz Edler, speaking for the Harding-Labrie Defense Committee, which helped coordinate support for the rail workers throughout North America. “We have been waiting over three years for an official government inquiry into the causes of this tragedy and for steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Rail safety and environmental activists in Canada and the United States have been arguing for years that holding a criminal trial of rail workers before examining all the factors that led to the crash amounts to a cover-up. “A criminal trial is the absolute worst way to uncover all the actions and policies that contributed to this crash,” said Edler. “The report from the Canadian Transport Safety Board had 18 factors, and Harding and Labrie had no part in at least 16 of them. They must be addressed.”

Rail workers are not the only ones supporting the verdict. Jean Clusiault of Lac-Mégantic, who lost a daughter in the tragedy, told CBC News , “I felt relieved because these are not the right people who should be there,” he said. “These aren’t killers. We treated them like killers.”

“A focus on rail safety might have prevented some of the runaway trains over the past three years while Harding and Labrie were facing these charges,” said Edler. “This should have been the first priority in 2013. Many of the same risky railroad policies that led up to Lac-Mégantic are still in effect today. There is still not enough government oversight of rail safety.”

The Harding and Labrie Defense Committee had two demands right from the start. Drop the Charges, and, Real Rail Safety Now! The jury took care of the first one. The fight for the second continues.

The Harding and Labrie Defense Committee has worked with groups from Lac-Mégantic, Montreal and across the US organizing the existing broad consensus that the wrong people were on trial and working to combat the disinformation campaign by politicians and their rail industry sponsors. It has delivered thousands of petition signatures from Québec and elsewhere to the Crown prosecutors and raised money for the political defense of the rail workers.

More information: www.hardingdefense.org Twitter:#SafeTrainsNow

Teamsters Canada Calls For Government To Take Responsibility

http://teamsters.ca/en/blog/2018/01/19/tragedy-at-lac-megantic-time-for-the-government-to-take-responsibility

Teamsters Canada

TRAGEDY AT LAC-MÉGANTIC: TIME FOR THE GOVERNMENT TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

Laval, January 19, 2018 — The Teamsters Union is relieved by the acquittal of three Montreal, Maine & Atlantic workers who were accused of criminal negligence causing death in the Lac-Mégantic derailment. The lengthy trial highlighted major shortcomings in the rail industry and the Teamsters believe it is now time for Transport Canada to act decisively to ensure the safety of the general public and of workers.

“Installing cameras to monitor train workers does nothing to improve safety in this industry, warned Teamsters Canada President François Laporte. Increasing safety requires hiring railway inspectors, allowing workers to rest when they are tired, and most importantly, monitoring the rail carriers very closely as well as ensuring a transparent public consultation before granting a rail carrier an exemption to a safety rule.”

“These are the types of measures that will reduce the risk of such a tragedy happening again.”

The evidence filed by the Crown apparently failed to convince the jury: after deliberating for nine days, they returned with a unanimous verdict of “not guilty”.

“My thoughts are, once again, with the families and friends of the victims of the tragedy, said the Union leader. I simply want to tell them that I strongly believe this disaster was caused by a careless employer and that justice will be done when the criminal trial of the MM & A is over.”

The Teamsters union represents close to 125,000 workers across Canada, including 12,000 workers in the rail industry. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has 1.4 million members in North America.

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Information:
Stéphane Lacroix, Director of Communications and Public Affairs
Cell: 514-609-5101
slacroix@teamsters.ca