Lac-Mégantic Residents Decry Charging of Low-Level Employees Over Deadly Disaster
"The big boss — he should be first."
Three employees of the rail company behind the infamous Lac-Mégantic train derailment and fireball explosion faced charges Tuesday of criminal negligence for the deaths of the 47 people killed. But for the residents of the small Quebec town, the fact that no executives were charged 10 months after the tragedy brought little sense of justice.
The three Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. employees charged were Thomas Harding, the train conductor; Jean Demaître, manager of train operations; and Richard Labrie, traffic controller.
Harding, whose lawyer, Thomas Walsh, had said would voluntarily appear in court, was arrested on Monday by a SWAT team that came to his house.
Walsh told CTVNews that the police forced Harding, his son and a friend to the ground before cuffing and taking Harding, who reportedly suffers from PTSD, away.
The three face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The charging of the three employees of the now bankrupt MMA, however, brought no joy to the people of the disaster-stricken town. Rather than being gripped by anger, they expressed sorrow and frustration that these low-level employees face charges while the real people who should be charged evade justice.
As the three somber-faced men were led into court, Ghislain Champagne, who lost his 36-year-old daughter Karine in the disaster, shouted, "It's not them we want!"
Peggy Curran, reporting for the Montreal Gazette, shares similar voices from Lac-Mégantic residents.
Resident Diane Poirier, who lost two nephews in the tragedy, told the Gazette, "To my mind, it is their boss who is responsible," referring to MMA chairman Ed Burkhardt. "He took his time coming here to see us here. I didn’t like the attitude of that man at all. But I don’t blame them at all — maybe they lacked training."
That feeling was echoed by Ghislain Champagne's wife, Danielle Lachance Champagne. "I believe there should be charges, but for the right people," adding, "The big boss — he should be first."
But beyond the bosses, said Raymond Lafontaine, who lost friends and family members in the accident, the federal government bears responsibility for inadequate track maintenance.
"We want to know that it can never happen again," Danielle Champagne said, "but it will."
Weeks after the Lac-Mégantic disaster, Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, wrote, "Those who do not learn from their mistakes are bound to repeat them," and noted, "How easy it would be to lay the blame for the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic on the engineer who ran the train."
"But the real responsibility lies with the governments on both sides of the border who have deregulated their transport sectors, gutted freshwater protections and promoted the spectacular growth and transport of new and unsustainable fossil fuels," Barlow wrote.
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The scene of the explosive July 2013 derailment was captured by YouTube user Anne-Julie Hallée in this video below: