Crown witness lied, defence lawyer tells jury in Lac-Mégantic trial

Gaétan Bourassa, the lawyer for the former railway operations manager indicted for his role in the 2013 Lac-Mégantic train disaster, told jurors in his closing arguments that key witness François Daigle is protecting his own mistakes and can't be believed.

Lawyer for ex-MMA railway operations manager Jean Demaître makes closing arguments

Gaétan Bourassa, right, is the defence lawyer for Jean Demaître. (Alison Brunette/CBC)

Gaétan Bourassa, the lawyer for Jean Demaître, the former railway operations manager indicted for his role in the 2013 Lac-Mégantic train disaster, told jurors Thursday one of the Crown witnesses who testified against his client lied to the court.

Demaître is charged with criminal negligence causing 47 deaths, along with locomotive engineer Tom Harding and rail traffic controller Richard Labrie, in connection with the runaway train which derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic July 6, 2013.

Forty-seven people died in the ensuing inferno.

Addressing the 14-member jury and Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas, Bourassa  devoted several hours of his closing arguments to dissecting contradictions in the Crown's evidence over the course of the three-month-long trial.

Bourassa zeroed in on the testimony of François Daigle, a locomotive engineer who testified that he'd driven the lead locomotive involved in the disaster the day before the tragedy.

Daigle told the court he had reported the problems to Demaître, asking him to switch that locomotive out of the lead — a request at which, he said, Demaître had rudely thumbed his nose.

"That means Jean Demaître is so negligent that he refused to change a potentially dangerous locomotive," Bourassa said to the jury.  

"That means he had to hope [everyone] who would work with it would not notice it,"  he said.

"It's frightening how outlandish a lie that is."

Witness protecting himself, lawyer argues

Bourassa told the jurors one of the conclusions they could draw is Daigle is not credible.

"Daigle is an obscure character," said Bourassa, pointing out that the engineer had filed a report about a mechanical problem with the locomotive the day before the disaster and sent it to the repair shop in Maine.

Bourassa said it was not up to Daigle to do that. Furthermore, the repair shop was closed for Independence Day.  

Bourassa said Daigle didn't follow the proper chain of command.  

"Instead of sending it to the rail traffic controller, he kept it,"  he said.

Bourassa listed half a dozen people to whom Daigle could have reported the engine problems, including the rail traffic controller on duty at the time, and his fellow engineer, Tom Harding, with whom Daigle recalled exchanging pleasantries at the Farnham station minutes before Harding left on the ill-fated trip.

"What I'm telling you is this person has an interest in protecting himself because he didn't do what he was supposed to," said Bourassa.

"He didn't tell anyone, and he feels guilty," he said. "He wants to put it on someone else's back."

Bourassa reminded jurors Daigle had testified he didn't like Demaître and had a problem with MMA managers.  

The lawyer also called into question Daigle's memory.

"I heard over 50 times, 'I don't remember,'" said Bourassa, referring to Daigle's testimony, "and conveniently, usually when we tried to show contradictions."

Distinguish between actions of Demaître and MMA: Bourassa

Earlier in his closing arguments, Bourassa urged the jurors to distinguish between Demaître's actions and those of his former employer.

"'This is the trial of Jean Demaître, not the trial of MMA through Jean Demaître," Bourassa said Thursday in his closing arguments to the jury.

"There is a tremendous difference."

Bourassa also told the jury not to make assumptions about an accused person who chooses not to testify.

Demaître waived his right last month to mount a formal defence, as did the other two men facing charges.

Bourassa argued that, as senior management in Quebec for an American company, the extent of Demaître's responsibilities remains unknown.

He then outlined dozens of MMA rules and regulations he said he will use to support his defence of Demaître, and he reminded jurors they will have to differentiate between simple criminal negligence and criminal negligence causing death in deciding upon his client's fate.

The Crown presented its closing arguments Wednesday

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story reported the three defendants are charged with 47 counts each of criminal negligence causing death — one count for each person who died in the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster. In fact, prior to the trial, the Crown simplified the charge to a single count each of criminal negligence causing 47 deaths. The change has no bearing on the criteria used by the jury to render its verdict or on the possible sentence.
    Jan 15, 2018 7:10 PM ET