|The CBC Halifax Explosion Site|
How had this happened?
Halifax wanted answers.
An inquiry began just seven days after the Explosion with Mr. Justice Arthur Drysdale in charge. The inquiry’s focus was to establish how the original collision occurred, and who was responsible.
People wanted more than that: the city’s anger was close to the boiling point.
Why had Mont-Blanc been allowed to steam through heavy harbour traffic, past densely-populated areas, without any warnings? Angry citizens didn't care that there had been many similar passages through the Narrows without incident.
In a country debating conscription [?], the fact that Mont-Blanc’s crew was French became a focus, and at one point its captain required police protection.
There were questions too about the Imo’s crew of Norwegians, whose accents sounded German to some Halifax ears. Had a spy been at work?
The owners of Imo hired one of the province’s best-known lawyers, Charles Burchell. His grilling of the man being blamed on the street and in the media was unrelenting. The three were the harbour's Chief Examining Officer Commander Frederick Wyatt, Mont-Blanc's captain Aimé Le Médec and its local pilot, Francis Mackey.
Drysdale rarely interfered with Burchell's tactics, and he delivered his conclusions within an hour of the last hearing on February 4th, 1918: Mont-Blanc was completely at fault for the collision, he said.
After the inquiry Wyatt, Le Médec and Mackey faced charges of manslaughter. Wyatt was acquitted, and the charges against the others were dismissed.
The inquiry’s findings were thrown out, too. Appeals to the Supreme Court of Canada and the British Privy Council found that both ships were to blame for the collision, and no one party was responsible for the loss of so many lives.
Did You Know
The inquiry is not considered a high point in Nova Scotia's legal history. The Supreme Court of Canada and the Privy Council in London criticized the judge's handling of the inquiry.
In 1992, lawyer Donald A. Kerr wrote a paper on the inquiry and related lawsuits. He called it Another Calamity: The Litigation. It appears in Ground Zero.