BUSINESS

New Lac-Megantic Charges Laid By Federal Government

06/22/2015 11:37 EDT | Updated 06/22/2016 05:59 EDT
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Que., Saturday, July 6, 2013. A large swath of Lac Megantic was destroyed Saturday after a train carrying crude oil derailed, sparking several explosions and forcing the evacuation of up to 1,000 people. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)
OTTAWA - The federal government has laid new charges in the 2013 train derailment disaster in Lac-Megantic, including against Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. and the defunct company's former president.

Six people on both sides of the border have been charged following a Transport Canada investigation that found an insufficient number of handbrakes were applied to the train that barrelled into the Quebec town almost two years ago.

The government says in a release that the investigation under the Railway Safety Act also found the handbrakes were not tested properly.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada says charges have been laid against both Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Canada and Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd.

The six individuals charged are railway former president Robert Grindrod; company executives Lynne Ellen Labonte and Kenneth Strout; train driver Thomas Harding; manager of train operations Jean Demaitre; and the company's assistant transportation director, Mike Horan.

A conviction carries a maximum fine of $50,000, a maximum jail term of six months, or both.

Those six, along with railway traffic controller Richard Labrie, each face a federal Fisheries Act charge for the crude oil that flowed into Lac-Megantic and the Chaudiere River after the deadly accident in July 2013. The maximum penalty on that charge is a $1-million fine.

All those charged will appear in court in Lac-Megantic on Nov. 12.

Ed Burkhardt, who was head of the railway company at the time of the disaster, said the charges reveal no new details about the accident beyond what was already known.

"I have no other comment," Burkhardt said in an email to The Canadian Press.

Already, Harding, Demaitre and Labrie have each pleaded not guilty to 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Their trial starts in September.

Harding has already revealed that he put seven brakes on the train on the night of the crash, lawyer Thomas Walsh said Monday as he openly questioned the timing of the new charges against his client.

The government is simply trying to look proactive for all the years they allowed the railway company to get away with practices that compromised safety, such as having only one person driving trains, Walsh said in an interview.

"Where were they when all this stuff was taking place?" he said.

"Now they're coming out as if they're taking care of business… They're not taking care of business by two years later accusing him of something he's already been accused of. What the hell is the point?"

As for the Fisheries Act charges, Walsh was no less blunt: "It's hardly worth getting excited about at this stage of the game in terms of your priorities. It's a funny use of priorities."

The charges come two years after the July 2013 disaster in the small Quebec town that killed 47 people and forced thousands more from their homes as fire from the derailed train destroyed most of the town's downtown core.

A Transportation Safety Board review found the handbrakes on the train failed as it was parked on a grade, sending it speeding on a 12-kilometre path into the town's downtown core. The 72-car train jumped the track, spilling and igniting some six million litres of volatile crude oil.

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