Lawyer for train driver in Lac-Mégantic derailment seeks stay of proceedings

The lawyer for Tom Harding, the train driver charged in the Lac-Mégantic derailment that left 47 people dead in 2013, wants a stay of proceedings in his client's case.

Petition filed in Quebec Superior Court, alleging Tom Harding's Charter rights haven't been respected by Crown

Train driver Tom Harding, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie, train operations manager Jean Demaître and the defunct Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway all face charges of criminal negligence after 47 people died in Lac-Mégantic in July 2013 when a runaway train exploded and caught fire. (Reuters)
The lawyer for the train driver charged in the Lac-Mégantic derailment that left 47 people dead in 2013 wants a
stay of proceedings in the case against his client.

Thomas Walsh has filed a petition on behalf of Tom Harding in Quebec Superior Court, alleging his client's Charter rights have not been respected.

Walsh says the Crown has refused to make its theory in the case clear, and the prosecution's decision to not have a preliminary hearing to test the evidence has made it difficult for Harding. 
Train conductor Tom Harding is one of seven people facing charges laid under the Railway Safety Act and the Fisheries Act following the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

A date for the stay-of-proceedings motion to be heard hasn't been set, but Walsh said in an interview Wednesday it's impossible to plan a defence without knowing the Crown's arguments.

Harding, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie, train operations manager Jean Demaître and the defunct railway company, Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway, all face 47 charges of criminal negligence causing death.

That is one charge for each person who died after the train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in
Lac-Mégantic's downtown core.

The accused have pleaded not guilty and opted for trial by jury.

Trial risks becoming 'orgy of finger-pointing'

The charges were filed almost two years ago. Last year, the Crown was granted a preferred indictment, whereby a case goes directly to trial after bypassing a preliminary hearing often used to test the evidence.
Walsh says without an inkling of the Crown's case, a future trial will play out like a professional wrestling match.

"You throw everybody in the same cage and there's an orgy of finger-pointing, and the jury comes up with the best response it can in the light of all that," Walsh said. "I don't think that's a proper or fair way to do a criminal trial."

Walsh's 27-page Quebec Superior Court filing, dated March 17, also makes reference to Harding's heavy-handed arrest by provincial police, arguing it was abusive.

He called the arrest by a tactical unit in May 2014, nearly 10 months after the tragedy, an attempt to destabilize his client.

Walsh alleged the goal was to shame evidence out of Harding. 

The case is scheduled to return to court on April 4, but a number of motions will be heard beginning April 20.

Motion to move trial venue

They include requests to have the trial moved out of Lac-Mégantic and others dealing with divulging evidence and getting the Crown to lay out its case.

On the venue front, Demaître's lawyer, Christiane Filteau, says the request to move the trial is based on logistics.

She said finding bilingual jurors in a largely francophone area would be difficult, as would locating impartial jurors given that many locals belong to various class-action lawsuits. The makeshift courthouse isn't equipped for a such a trial, she added.

"I want it in a jurisdiction other than Lac-Mégantic," Filteau said. "It's up the judge to decide, depending on what's available (elsewhere)."

Walsh has previously said he wants an English trial in Lac-Mégantic, so a bilingual jury would be necessary if everyone is tried together. He's mused about a separate trial for Harding but can't make that call without knowing more about the Crown's case.

Jean-Pascal Boucher, a spokesman for the office of the director of criminal and penal prosecutions, had no comment other than to say such debates would take place in the courtroom.