Are the right people on trial for Lac-Mégantic train disaster?
Former Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. (MMA) train engineer Tom Harding, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations, Jean Demaitre, are charged with 47 charges of criminal negligence causing death.
“People have moved on,” said Lac-Mégantic director-general Marie-Claude Arguin.
“I might be in trouble for saying this, but are the right people on trial? I don’t know.”
Residents from the small town say they just want to move on with their lives.
Jean Paradis told Global News that on the night of the accident, he was inside the Musi-Café.
WATCH BELOW: Lac-Mégantic defence lawyer ‘optimistic’ on Day 1 of trial
Standing outside the courthouse Monday, he said he can still remember hearing his friends’ cries for help as they perished in the fire.
He says he doesn’t want answers from the three men on trial; he isn’t happy that MMA executives are “in the States. They’re with their money” and not facing questions in Quebec.
“Transport Canada has let those cheap companies run railroads for less money, for making more money instead of acting for security for people,” Paradis told Global News.
“Security should be first. Not third.”
After analyzing the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) report, Jean-Paul Lacoursière, a chemical engineer at the Université de Sherbrooke, found that upper management should be involved in this trial — if at least to testify.
“It appears from the TSB report that the company has tolerated improper braking practices, did not provide appropriate braking practice and did not ensure the employees were properly trained and demonstrated that they understood the training,” he told Global News.
“The TSB report indicates that improper repairs were conducted on the locomotive that caught fire the tragic night.”
Lacoursière notes the TSB found that MMA lacked leadership by not effectively managing risks, implementing safety management systems and providing ineffective training.
He argues leadership must come from the highest authority in a company through procedures and resources to make sure equipment and policies are up-to-date.
WATCH BELOW: Looking back at the train derailment
“Leadership is not only words, but a deep involvement of the leaders ensuring that what they stated is implemented,” he told Global News.
“Leadership is not the flavour of the moment, but a deep and permanent involvement.”
Lacoursière points to a “weak safety culture” from Transport Canada that did not encourage MMA to train its employees properly.
He noted that the case holds some resemblance to the Westray Mine explosion in Nova Scotia, which led Parliament to adopt Bill C-45 in 2004.
“The Bill established new legal duties for workplace health and safety, and imposed serious penalties for violations that result in injuries or death,” Lacoursière explained.
“The Bill provided new rules for attributing criminal liability to organizations, including corporations, their representatives and those who direct the work of others.”
A town on fire
The incident happened at 1:15 a.m. when a runaway train with 72 oil tankers — owned and operated by the now bankrupt railway company Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. (MMA) — barrelled into the town at over 100 km/h.
The locomotive, and subsequently the airbrakes, were then shut down after a small fire on the train, causing the air to bleed off and the train to start sliding.
Dozens of homes and businesses were destroyed and about 2,000 residents were evacuated.
The bilingual trial is taking place in Sherbrooke, Que., about an hour and a half away from Lac-Mégantic.
A conviction on criminal negligence causing death can carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
The trial is expected to last until Dec. 21.
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