What Story Will History Tell About The Lac-Mégantic Crude Export Oil Train Wreck?

Today, the uncontested story presented by the rail carriers and the government regulators in North America is that everything has been fixed, the guilty have been punished, good regulators are paying attention and that the cause of the wreck and others like it is human beings. The fix is supposed to be replacing skilled human beings with technology.

A new book chronicles what was revealed in the Lac-Mégantic investigation and trial. Come hear Bruce Campbell and experts explain why we have to fight for the truth about the unprecedented increase in risky operations on North American railroads and the dangers it poses right now to both workers and communities.


The Runaway Train of Deregulation in the U.S. and Canada

January 7 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Over five years ago, in the early hours of July 6, 2013, a train carrying highly flammable and volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota derailed in the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. The explosion killed 47 people and destroyed the historic downtown, spilling over 1.5 million gallons of oil.

Subsequent investigations showed that the disaster was entirely avoidable. To start with, the company was running a 72-car, mile-long oil train with a single engineer as the only crewmember. A lax safety culture at the railroad company, a cost-cutting mindset in the entire railroad industry, and the growth of deregulatory ideology in the Canadian and U.S. governments were all contributing factors.

Five years later all these factors are still present. The number of runaway trains has increased. Railroad management is still cutting corners, and government regulators are still looking the other way. Volatile crude oil shipments by rail are now 2-3 times what they were in 2013, increasing the likelihood of disasters such as Lac-Mégantic. But the alternatives to rail shipments – pipelines – are also dangerous. Continued reliance on oil production is known to pose an existential threat to the Earth’s climate.

The next Lac-Mégantic tragedy could be somewhere in the mid Atlantic region with oil and fracked gas production increasing in a region so heavily reliant on rail to move both passengers and freight.

Join the Institute for Policy Studies to learn more about these critical issues and discuss ways to respond.


  • Bruce Campbell, former Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, author of the new book The Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster: Public Betrayal, Justice Denied.
  • Fritz Edler, veteran railroader, Special Representative of Railroad Workers United, and Chair of the Harding/Labrie Defense Committee, a coalition to assist the legal defense of railroad workers who were scapegoated for the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

Please RSVP!

New Book Release Details The Lac-Mégantic Train Wreck Policy Disaster

The Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster: Public Betrayal, Justice Denied

by Bruce Campbell

James Lorimer & Co. Publishers:

Release Date: October 4, 2018

Get the book now

The book uncovers new elements of the story behind the Lac-Mégantic disaster: what happened, how it happened, who was responsible, and why it can happen again.

Lac-Mégantic was not a rare random occurrence, impossible to foresee. On the contrary, it was the culmination of a series of events, policies, decisions, which as the book details, over time saw an enormous build-up in the risk of catastrophe, to the point where it became a matter of Russian roulette— not if, but when.

The book traces the trajectory of deregulation—accelerated by privatization and fiscal austerity—beginning with the Mulroney government, continuing with the Chretien-Martin government, and culminating with the Harper Conservatives.

It chronicles the measures, which systematically removed safety protections— producing a weakened and compliant regulator captured by a powerful industry—which subordinated government’s foremost obligation to protect its citizens, the citizens of Lac-Mégantic, to the private interests of corporations. Public betrayal.

The book recounts the story of US railway hard-liner Hunter Harrison who, as head of CN and later CP, transformed the Canadian railway landscape; and with CP became a central player in the highly profitable but increasingly risky transportation of Bakken crude and Alberta bitumen.

It shows how, despite critical assessments of Transport Canada’s deeply flawed rail safety regime, and warnings from inside the department, senior officials and their political masters downplayed the growing dangers in the rush to get oil to coastal refineries like Irving. The railways, averse to limitations on their lucrative new revenue stream, pressured government to block or delay regulations to help cope with the new reality.

The book describes how CP subcontractor, Montréal Maine and Atlantic Railway, headed by another US railroader Ed Burkhardt, a company with an appalling safety record and a culture of negligence—was able to gain permission from Transport Canada to operate its oil trains, which ran through Lac-Mégantic, with a single crewmember. It probes the decision-making dynamics within Transport Canada that led to this approval, and the abnegation of ministerial responsibility. It reveals how the single person crew decision was covered up as a cause of the disaster up by the politically compromised final Transportation Safety Board report—overriding the findings of the investigation team.

It is also the story of lives, which were forever changed by the tragedy, subsequent tragedies endured by many, and the courageous struggle of those who have fought against despair and for safety and justice for their community.

Only three front-line workers were put on trial for criminal negligence. They were acquitted. : No decision-makers within the industry, the company and the government were held to account.

Virtually all criminal and civil actions have been settled behind closed doors except the criminal trial, where the only people who testified were low-level company and government employees.

No company executives or its owner, no senior government officials, no political or industry leaders— were compelled to testify under oath. As a vehicle to uncover the truth and hold those responsible to account, the legal system failed.  A public inquiry is  the only remaining vehicle capable of  getting at the truth and bringing a measure of justice.

Finally, the Harper and Trudeau government’s failure to address fundamental safety risks that still exist, leave open the door for history to repeat itself at a time when oil-by-rail traffic is reaching record levels.

Bruce Campbell is a former Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He is the author of three major reports on the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster. For this work, he was awarded a Law Foundation of Ontario Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship and spent 2016 as a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. Bruce Campbell  is currently adjunct professor, York University, Faculty of Environmental Studies; and Senior Fellow, Ryerson University, Centre for Free Expression.  

He can be reached at: 613-749-3374; or by cell: 613-875-2234; email address: brucejkg@gmail.com


Advanced Praise for “The Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster: Public Betrayal, Justice Denied”

“Bruce Campbell has carried out meticulous research in many fields to piece together the whole story of a catastrophe-in-the making, and his findings, as reported in this book, will be of interest to readers who value human life, intact communities, and a safe environment.  Much more than a research report, the book is a dramatic read, with no letup in the action from start to finish.”

[Harry Gow, retired criminology teacher at University of Ottawa, is President Emeritus of Transport Action Canada and Chair of the Board of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre]


“Bruce Campbell has made a superb contribution. His vivid account of the events at Lac-Megantic reveal a deep empathy for the victims. He accords them the highest respect possible by avoiding sentiment and explaining why it all happened. He puts the tragedy in its economic and political context. He shows how the internalization of neoliberalism by our political elites has made it too easy easy for predators. Deregulation to satisfy the avaricious heedless of human welfare, is carefully documented. The associated disciplining of bureaucrats and the corruption of corruptible regulators is brought out with precision. Campbell proves that the Lac-Megantic disaster was a designed event, not an accident. The laws’ failure to punish the truly guilty endorses his point. This is a “must read’ for all, but especially for those of us who want to believe that our political and legal institutions are there to protect us, rather than  private profiteers.”

Harry Glasbeek, Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar, Osgoode Hall Law School. York University


With great policy proficiency and a profound quest for justice, Campbell clearly explains why Transport Canada – along with and railway companies/lobbies and oil companies– did not want a public inquiry into the tragedy of Lac-Mégantic. This book exposes how these actors sought to shield their actions rather than promote public safety. Corporate greed and narcissism, regulatory capture, political laissez-faire and unaccountability are boldly explained as some of the unwarranted causes of this tragedy. These explanations, as infuriating as they are, tragically comfort after more than five years of impunity and mourning.”


Liette Gilbert is Professor and Graduate Program Director, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University. Professor Gilbert grew up in the adjoining town of Nantes, from where the fateful train ran away. She retains close ties with the Lac-Mégantic community.


“Bruce Campbell has achieved a rare feat.  By combining careful and meticulous research with compelling personal narratives, his engaging and highly readable book is both a sobering analysis of the diverse constellation of factors that ultimately led to the Lac-Mégantic tragedy and a moving elegy to those whose lives were forever altered by it.  It is also a call to action and a larger reflection on the need to balance prosperity with fundamental values.  All Canadians should read this book.”

Professor Jennifer Quaid, Civil Law Section, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa


“The Lac Mégantic catastrophe was the deadly culmination of several strands of corporate malfeasance and government negligence: privatization, union-busting, cost-cutting, a blind faith in extractivism, and criminal regulatory laxity. Bruce Campbell follows every thread, documenting the ultimate causes of the disaster and identifying what must change. This powerful, impeccably documented book is not just a masterwork of documentary journalism: it’s a call to action. Read it. Get angry. Then speak out, before it happens again.”

Jim Stanford, Former Economist Unifor, and Harold Innis Industry Professor of Economics, McMaster University

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.