August 18, 2014 2:50 pm
Updated: August 18, 2014 8:40 pm

Public inquiry only way to get to bottom of Lac-Megantic disaster: CCPA


WATCH: One day before the Transportation Safety Board is set to release its long-anticipated report on the deadly Lac-Megantic rail disaster, a think tank is calling for an independent public inquiry. Mike Armstrong reports.

OTTAWA — One day before the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) is set to release its long-anticipated report on the deadly Lac-Megantic disaster, one Canadian think tank has made a call for an independent public inquiry.

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The call comes amid concerns the federal report will be tempered, not going hard enough on Transport Canada officials who may have fumbled their regulatory responsibilities, said Bruce Campbell, executive director of  the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-leaning think tank.

For his report, Campbell gathered evidence and records, much of which were publicly available through parliamentary committees and news reports. Once compiled, he found the finger pointing squarely at the federal government.

READ MORE: What’s safer (and not) since the Lac-Megantic disaster

“I found multiple instances of regulatory failure,” he said in an interview Monday. “Transport Canada has not taken any responsibility, at least publicly, for any regulatory failures.”

Instead, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt has blamed the tragedy on the negligence of certain individuals, including the train’s sole engineer and the railway company, MM&A, Campbell said.

When asked, a spokeswoman for the minister did not provide a reaction to Campbell’s findings, nor to whether the office would consider a public inquiry.

Jana Régimbal said only the investigations and legal proceedings, some still underway, will “need to run their course.”

READ MORE: Feds stressed fatigue, workload concerns just before Lac-Megantic disaster

It was the middle of the night during the first week of July last year when a runaway train carrying tanks of oil came barrelling into the heart of Lac-Megantic, Que. The engineer had left for some rest when the tanker cars derailed and exploded, destroying the downtown area, killing 47 people and contaminating waterways.

“Is the Transportation Safety Board report going to come down on the side of the minister or is it going to say there were significant regulatory breaches?” Campbell asked. He said he isn’t sure, though he’s hoping for the latter.

The TSB is, Campbell stressed, a reputable body that has put in a tremendous amount of work on this file. But its independence is questionable, he said.  Although the board acts as an independent body, its members are appointed by, and serve, the government.

“So how far up the hierarchy of responsibility in government is it going to go in terms of identifying [regulatory breaches]?”

READ MORE: Crude awakening: a Global News series on oil

Transport Canada has made a number of changes to rail safety regulations in the wake of Lac-Megantic regarding braking systems, locking locomotives and reducing speed, for example.

Campbell said he anticipates a thorough report Tuesday, though he’s not certain whether it will answer all questions — including who allowed the train to operate with a one-person crew.

As it stands, the regulatory system for transporting dangerous goods along Canada’s railroads has some rules that are too vague, and is one in which exceptions to those rules are sometimes granted in a non-transparent manner, Campbell wrote in his report.

“Then, if you’ve got a relationship between the regulator and the regulated company that’s a little too comfortable and you’re lacking proper enforcement and oversight, you’ve got the ingredients for regulatory failure,” Campbell said.

READ MORE: Would you want these rail cars rolling through your backyard?

For those reasons, he is calling for an independent public inquiry, saying that is the only way to get to the bottom of who and what caused the disaster.

“I don’t think the TSB report will be the last word,” he said. “This accident was the most devastating rail accident in a century. I think it warrants a full and comprehensive judicial-type inquiry … Transport Canada is not going to be able to investigate itself and I think we need to have a full airing of what actually went wrong.”

Here are the eight areas where the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says the government fell down and therefore contributed to the fatal tragedy and continued suffering in Lac-Megantic:

  • Establishing vague rules that are sometimes inadequately enforced.
  • Granting permission to MM&A to operate with one-person crews, even when carrying dangerous goods.
  • Allowing railways to transport volatile cargo in unsuitable tank cars.
  • Lacking oversight and enforcement of the government’s own Safety Management Systems.
  • Having flawed risk assessment protocols and processes.
  • Allocating insufficient regulatory resources despite exponential increases in the amount of oil travelling by rail.
  • Allowing industry to lobby and compromise public safety.

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