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New Charges Laid in Canada's Lac-Megantic Rail Disaster

The devastating train derailment killed 47 people and destroyed much of a small Quebec town nearly two years ago. On Monday, Canada's federal government announced two companies and six former employees face new charges.

by VICE News
Jun 23 2015, 3:10am

Photo by Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The Canadian federal government on Monday laid fresh charges in a devastating train derailment that killed 47 people and destroyed much of a small Quebec town nearly two years ago.

Two companies and six individuals face two charges each of breaching the Railway Safety Act after a Transport Canada investigation into the disaster found that an insufficient number of hand brakes had been applied before the train, carrying crude oil from North Dakota to New Brunswick, was left unattended for the night, outside of Lac-Megantic. Transport Canada also alleged that the brakes were improperly tested. 

Just before 1 a.m. on July 6, 2013, the train would begin its descent down a hill, picking up speeds of 65 miles per hour before it and 63 tanks of oil derailed near the centre of Lac-Megantic, causing a massive explosion and fire that decimated the town's downtown.

It has been described as the deadliest rail disaster since Canada became a country, in 1867.

The now defunct Montreal Maine & Atlantic Canada Railway Ltd. and its affiliate, Montreal Maine & Atlantic Canada Co., will be officially served in the coming days, alongside former employees Robert Grindrod, who was chief executive and president at the time; train engineer Thomas Harding; manager of train operations Jean Demaître; assistant director Mike Horan; Lynne Labonté, the general manager of transportation; and Kenneth Strout, the director of operating practices. They also face federal Fisheries Act charges. 

Harding, Demaître and railway traffic controller Richard Labrie had previously been charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death. They have pleaded not guilty.

The Railway Safety Act charges carry a possible fine of $50,000 CAD (aprox. $40,500 US) and or six months in jail for individuals, and up to $1-million CAD (approx. $810,000 US) for companies. 

Thomas Walsh, Harding's lawyer, questioned the timing of the charges in an interview with the CBC, suggesting Transport Canada was "trying to look like they're doing something" on the eve of the two-year anniversary.

Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt dismissed such a notion, saying she has no control over how long it takes the department to conduct its investigation.

"The minister has no direct involvement or indirect involvement with this timing once it starts unrolling from the scene of the accident itself, but I'm very glad that the charges have been laid because I truly believe that you can't break the Railway Safety Act and get away with it," she told 680 News. "I think it's extremely important to ensure that those who broke the rules are held accountable for breaking the rules, and that's what these charges are about."

None of the allegations have been tested in court.