Two railway workers facing criminal accusations in the deadly train derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Que., are asking the Crown to drop the charges in light of new evidence that also lays blame for the disaster at the feet of Transport Canada and the railway company.
Lawyers and union representatives for the two accused – Tom Harding, the engineer of the runaway train, and Richard Labrie, the railway’s traffic controller – described the men as “scapegoats” after the Transportation Safety Board of Canada last week spread responsibility for the derailment to federal and company officials.
“The Crown decided to ignore other lapses, and that’s what I find unfair and inequitable,” Thomas Walsh, lawyer for Mr. Harding, said at a news conference Thursday in Montreal. “Either charge everyone who has a share of responsibility, or charge no one.”
He questioned why prosecutors were “focusing on the little picture when the big picture is a lot more important.”
The long-awaited TSB report did say the failure by Mr. Harding to apply enough handbrakes after parking it for the night was a factor in the accident last year.
But investigators concluded that responsibility extended beyond those actions. They also pointed a finger at a “weak safety culture” at the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic railway, as well as poor rail safety enforcement at Transport Canada.
Mr. Harding and Mr. Labrie are charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence – one for each victim of the derailment – along with a railway manager, Jean Demaitre. The charges carry a possible sentence of life in prison.
Both employees are represented by the United Steelworkers. Mr. Demaitre, a member of management, is not represented by the union.
Audio transcripts obtained by The Globe and Mail also indicate that Mr. Harding was initially unaware that the train that exploded was his. The recorded conversation was between Mr. Harding and a controller at the railway company; when the controller tells Mr. Harding that the train that had caught fire was his, Mr. Harding’s response is: “No! ... Holy f–k.”
Many townspeople in Lac-Mégantic have also expressed the view that the employees were being unfairly blamed for the disaster, and company managers should be held accountable. At the suspects’ arraignment in May, townspeople who watched as the three were paraded before news cameras said they felt the three were not the real culprits.