Lac-Megantic criminal trial begins in Quebec

SHERBROOKE, Que. — Train driver Thomas Harding knows he’s partly at fault for the 2013 Lac-Megantic rail disaster that killed 47 people, but he was following procedure and the tragedy flowed from bad company policy, his lawyer said Monday on the first day of trial.

“Mr. Harding realizes he’s partly responsible for a very serious tragedy and that weighs on him a lot more heavily than the trial,” lawyer Thomas Walsh told reporters.

“Is it human error or criminal negligence? That’s what this case is about.”

Harding and two other ex-railway employees, traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations Jean Demaitre, are all facing one count of criminal negligence causing the death of 47 people.

All three ex-employees of Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway have pleaded not guilty.

Crown prosecutor Veronique Beauchamp told the 14-member jury in her opening statement that all three men were each responsible in their own way for ensuring the train was safe, and all three failed in their duties.

“Evidence will be presented that will show beyond a reasonable doubt, all three were criminally negligent … they contributed to the deaths of the 47 victims,” Beauchamp said.

An oil-laden locomotive weighing more than 10,000 tonnes was not properly secured the night of July 5, 2013, leaving it resting precariously on a slope, 10 kilometres away from downtown Lac-Megantic, Beauchamp told the court.

Driver Harding brought the train to a stop outside the village of Lac-Megantic and retired for the night. A fire broke out on part of the train roughly 30 minutes after he left.

Around 1 a.m. on July 6, 2013, roughly one hour after firefighters put out the flames and turned off the main engine, the train began moving, picking up speed and barrelling into the town.

“You’ll see that the number of brakes applied to the (train) was clearly insufficient,” Beauchamp said, referring to Harding, whom she said was ”responsible for the safe immobilization of the convoy.”

The evidence shows that Labrie, the Crown contends, never inquired about the security of the train after the fire.

“Only after the derailment did he ask Harding how many brakes he put on the train,” Beauchamp said.

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