09/11/2017 11:05 EDT | Updated 09/11/2017 11:41 EDT

Jury selection process begins at trial for Lac-Megantic accused

SHERBROOKE, Que. — Lawyers began the difficult task Monday of finding 14 jurors who are bilingual, impartial and without any personal connection to the 2013 rail disaster that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Que.

Between 800 and 1,200 prospective jurors will be called to court for possible selection at the trial of three men who have pleaded not guilty to one charge of criminal negligence causing the death of 47 people.

Charles Shearson, a defence lawyer for one of the accused, said the fact the trial is taking place in Sherbrooke, which is not far from Lac-Megantic, poses challenges.

"Lac-Megantic is close to (Sherbrooke) so you may have people who are related to victims," he said.

"It's also important the candidates have a good (understanding) of English and French because the trial will take up terms that are complicated and technical to the railway industry. That's why jury selection is taking three weeks."

The trial is expected to last until December.

Some people asked Monday to be exempted from serving on the jury because of personal connections with victims.

Two prospective jurors broke down in tears as they told Superior Court Justice Gaetan Dumas of their ties to those who died on July 6, 2013, after a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed in the Quebec community and exploded.

Others cited school, work, loss of income and health concerns as reasons for not being able to sit as jurors.

The three ex-railway employees who are on trial — train driver Thomas Harding, traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations Jean Demaitre — were present in the courtroom.

Shearson, one of Harding's three lawyers, said the defence will argue their client's actions were not criminal.

"Our contention is that there was a lack of security culture within this railway company and you can't strictly judge the actions of an employee who was on the front line and not given the correct tools to apply a proper safety culture," he said.

Monday afternoon was to be dedicated to assessing whether prospective jurors are sufficiently bilingual. Anglophone would-be jurors are scheduled to appear in court Tuesday for the same process.

All prospective jurors deemed bilingual are to return to court Sept. 29 for the official selection of the 14-member jury.

The bankrupt former railway company Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway has also pleaded not guilty to causing the deaths of 47 people and will face a separate trial at a later date.

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