Montreal

MMA will not stand trial for criminal negligence in Lac-Mégantic rail disaster

Following acquittals of 3 ex-MMA employees, Crown concludes there's not enough evidence to try railway company

April 03, 2018

Smoke rises from railway tanker cars that exploded and caught fire after a runaway train operated by the now-bankrupt Montreal, Maine and Atlantic railway derailed in downtown Lac-Megantic, Que., on July 6, 2013. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The defunct railway company at the heart of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic disaster will not have to stand trial for criminal negligence causing death, Quebec's Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) has confirmed.

Following the acquittals of three former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) employees on charges of criminal negligence causing 47 deaths, the DPCP said it no longer believes there is enough evidence to obtain a guilty verdict against MMA, which operated the train.

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According to prosecutor Marie-Ève Phaneuf, the provisions in the Criminal Code that cover the criminal liability of companies in cases of alleged negligence are based on the behaviour of the company's employees.

"With their verdict, the jurors sent a message that, by their assessment, the company's agents had not behaved in a manner that markedly deviated from the standard of care that a reasonable person would have adopted under the same circumstances," Phaneuf said.

This decision puts an end to criminal proceedings in connection with the rail disaster that occurred early in the morning of July 6, 2013 when the runaway train derailed, triggering the explosion of several tankers carrying highly volatile crude oil and turning downtown Lac-Mégantic into an inferno. Forty-seven people were killed.

Defence lawyer unsurprised by decision

For Tom Walsh, the lawyer who represented acquitted MMA locomotive engineer Tom Harding, the Crown's decision to skip the trial was a predictable one that reflects the reactive nature of cases such as these.

"The Crown should have gone after the company first to prove that they were serious in accusing them in the first place," Walsh told CBC Breakaway's Saroja Coelho.

He argued that if the prosecutors were seriously thinking about accountability, they would have aimed their criminal prosecutions at the senior officers of the company who made the decisions that resulted in the tragedy.

"It's been sort of traditional in situations like this that the guy down at the end of the ladder … is held totally responsible for the whole of the situation," Walsh said.

He said a change of perspective and culture is needed in order to change things.

"There's only one lesson, and it's prevention with a capital P," he said.

With files from Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press
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