September 13th: Thousands petition to Drop the Charges Against Harding and Labrie

 

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September 13, 2016, supporters representing over 2200 petitioners from across North America attended court proceedings in Sherbrooke QC, calling for the dropping of criminal charges against Harding and Labrie and prosecution of the policy makers and real culprits responsible for the Lac-Mégantic train wreck in 2o13.

Almost 2800 petition signers, including public officials, rail safety activists, community activists as well as labor union members in rail and other industries ultimately took part in the campaign for justice, rail safety and real accountability for the tragedy.   Petitions were delivered to representatives of the Crown prosecutors at the hearing and continued to be delivered as they came in into October.

The September 13th hearing set the date and scope for the criminal trial phase, beginning September 11, 2017.

Prosecutors in the case face mounting public dissent concerning the scapegoating of Harding and Labrie as well as legal challenges due to the maneuvers of the bankrupt Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railroad (MMA).  The policy decision makers of the MMA who are now known to have directed the actions that led to the wreck are free of charge and operating rail operations elsewhere including in the United States.

 

 

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Supporters to Demand “Drop the Charges – Focus on Rail Safety” at Court Hearing on Lac-Mégantic Tragedy

Committee will deliver thousands of petitions calling for the Canadian and Quebec authorities to drop the charges against railroad workers Tom Harding and Richard Labrie

For Immediate Release: Thursday, September 8, 2016

Contact: Fritz Edler, justice@hardingdefense.org, (202) 494-3848

Time: Tuesday, September 13, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Place: Palais de Justice, 375 Rue King Ouest (corner of King and Belvédère), Sherbrooke, QC

(Sherbrooke, QC)-Representatives of the Harding and Labrie Defense Committee, Railroad Workers United (RWU) and community allies from the Lac Mégantic area will be at the procedural hearings at the Palais de Justice in Sherbrooke, QC on September 13th, 2016 carrying petitions signed by over 2000 people across North America calling for ending the prosecution of Canadian railworkers Tom Harding and Richard Labrie. Harding and Labrie have been targeted and charged under the Criminal Code as well as the Railroad Safety Act and other laws. The charges could result in prison terms up to life.

“Investigations have already determined that the actions of these two were not the predominate cause the Lac-Mégantic tragedy,” said Committee representative Fritz Edler, a 35-year veteran train engineer. “The runaway train that killed 47 and destroyed half the town was the result of railroad managerial irresponsibility compounded by a failure of government oversight and safety regulation. There was a lax safety culture that has to change.”

The irresponsible practice of sending out unit trains of the most volatile kind with only a single crew member illustrates the disregard for public safety by the Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railroad (MMA) whose most important policymakers have had no legal penalty.

“The number of runaway trains reported across Canada has increased every year since Lac­ Mégantic,” Edler added. “It’s no wonder the people of Lac Mégantic have no confidence in the current actions of the railroad companies or the government agencies to keep them safe, and are calling for the tracks to detour around the town rather than run through it.”

Supporters will gather at 9 am on September 13th in the Palais de Justice Square in Sherbrooke to present the petitions. After the procedural hearing, Harding’s legal defense team will update supporters on the latest developments in the case.

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The Harding and Labrie Defense Committee was formed in 2015 to organize defense for Canadian Rail Steelworkers Tom Harding and Richard Labrie; who have been scapegoated for the tragic Lac-Mégantic trainwreck in 2013. Facts developed since the wreck by investigators for the Government and independent journalists make clear that railroad policies were responsible for creating the culture of negligence that led to that disaster.

Railroad Workers United (RWU) is a North American cross-craft solidarity and advocacy organization of railworkers and their supporters. RWU members and supporters on railroads across North America are monitoring the Harding/Labrie case closely. RWU believes jailing Harding and Labrie will be an obstacle to current day safety culture on Canada’s railways, as well as a roadblock to getting full accountability for the Mégantic wreck.

For more information, visit www.hardingdefense.org or follow us on Twitter @harding_labrie

Two Weeks – Two Fronts in Fight for Rail Safety

June 20 – Drop the Charges   July 6th – No More Lac-Mégantics

 

Three years ago, on July 6, 2013, a small town in Quebec became a symbol of the need for greater focus on rail safety throughout North America. A runaway Bakken oil train exploded and burned in the downtown. 47 people were killed immediately and another 3 have taken their own lives in the last three years in the devastating aftermath which has left a legacy of destruction and environmental damage which will never be truly overcome.

The Lac-Mégantic tragedy will be back in the news twice in a matter of weeks. The Citizens Coalition in Lac-Mégantic has called for July 6th this year to be a day of remembrance for the victims of the crash and a day to recommit to greater rail safety. Railroad workers, environmental activists and other community groups concerned about railroad safety will express their solidarity by answering that call and take time out on July 6th to say No More Lac-Mégantics. Railroad Workers United will join with others on July 6th in Chicago for a special forum on rail safety centered on the issues raised in Lac-Mégantic. Actions are underway in other cities as well.

This commemoration will come just two weeks after the latest events in a legal battle that should have ended long ago – the drive to scapegoat railroad workers and let unsafe railroad policies off the hook.

Everybody wanted to know what was responsible for the tragedy. People called for a complete and thorough investigation to determine the facts and the guilty parties. But the Canadian government jumped the gun and theatrically charged the engineer, Tom Harding, and his dispatcher, Richard Labrie with 47 counts of criminal negligence resulting in death.

Ultimately investigation by the Canadian Transportation Safety Board and courageous investigative reporters turned up serious evidence that laid the responsibility for the crash at the feet of decisions and policies of the railroad company, the Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA). These unsafe corporate policies and decisions had been ignored or even endorsed by the Canadian regulators responsible for overseeing rail safety.

The evidence is now very clear. The actions of Engineer Tom Harding and dispatcher Richard Labrie DID NOT cause the Lac-Mégantic wreck.  If the MMA hadn’t imposed unsafe procedures on its train crews, with Transport Canada regulators looking the other way, there would not have been a runaway train and explosion in Lac-Mégantic.

The MMA was not the only party taking shortcuts. On June 20th this year, Tom Harding’s lawyer is going to court to address the Canadian government’s rush to judgement. Crown Prosecutors used loopholes to avoid holding a Preliminary Hearing, which would have given the defendants an opportunity to challenge the supposed evidence and preview the theory of the prosecution. A Preliminary Hearing would have been normal in most proceedings of this kind. Harding’s lawyer is now forced to present a motion for “Disclosure”, as well as a motion to “Stay the Proceedings”, based in part on the denial of Harding’s right to a Preliminary Hearing. Even if the Court grants Harding’s defense motions (the Crown has filed motions to “quash” them) it will not be the end of the need for us to use every means to get out the word about this wrongful prosecution going forward.

If railroading Tom Harding and Richard Labrie to prison wasn’t bad enough, the Canadian government has blocked the efforts of the Citizens Coalition of Lac-Mégantic to move the railroad tracks from the center of town and to make real rail safety a top priority going forward. The government wants to narrow the issue to oil trains and declare the danger over. But rail safety is not just about unsafe cargo. The people who live by the tracks and those who run the trains must be party to determining whether safe conditions are maintained.

The Canadian government must stop the prosecution of railroad workers for a tragedy they did not cause, and they and the U.S. government must speed up addressing unsafe railroad practices and conditions in Lac-Mégantic and everywhere. Every Railroad worker and everyone who cares about railroad safety has a stake in the outcome of this. We all need to be watching what happens in the courtroom on June 20th and be prepared to stand up for rail safety on July 6th.

Drop the Charges – No More Lac-Mégantics