The Canadian subsidiary of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, whose train ravaged Lac-Mégantic, got the creditor protection it was seeking, but the Quebec Superior Court judge who granted its request had some harsh words for the railway's directors.
Justice Martin Castonguay granted the stay of proceedings against the railway company on Thursday to "avoid judicial anarchy."
"It is in everybody's interest to maximize the value of the assets," he said in an oral decision.
However, the judge initially excluded the directors of Montreal Maine & Atlantic Canada from the court's protection. To earn that privilege, the judge explained, directors must "act in good faith."
"The tribunal is not impressed at all by the way MM&A behaved," Justice Castonguay said.
"Since the beginning of the events, their conduct has been totally lamentable," he added.
But the judge later changed his mind when the lawyer representing MM&A's Canadian affiliate, Denis St-Onge, pointed out that allowing lawsuits to proceed against the railway's directors might deplete the company's $25-million insurance policy, leaving little money for other claimants such as the Quebec government, which is now footing the clean-up bill.
Justice Castonguay then ordered a stay of proceedings against the company's directors, but only in relation to claims pertaining to the train derailment and the ensuing explosions. This would still allow former employees to seek compensation for their unpaid vacation, a situation their union, the Syndicat des Métallos, denounced as a "theft" on Wednesday.
"I find it scandalous when a company doesn't pay its employees," Justice Castonguay commented.
The decision to allow some claims to proceed against the directors of MM&A's Canadian affiliate could however be revised, when Justice Castonguay passes the bankruptcy case to a judge based in the Eastern Townships.
"For me it's totally obvious that this trial needs to be heard close to where the people in Lac-Mégantic live. They shouldn't have to drive for hours to find out what is happening."
Justice Castonguay offered his condolences to the Lac-Mégantic community on behalf of the judicial authorities, in a case he had earlier described as an "exceptional situation that requires exceptional remedies."
"There are secured and unsecured creditors, and then there are extraordinary creditors," he said. "It is not a legal term but it applies to the disaster victims."