LAC-MEGANTIC, Que. – A number of accused have pleaded not guilty to federal charges laid in connection with the 2013 Lac-Megantic train derailment.
The accused are all former employees of now-defunct Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd., and most were represented by lawyers in court on Thursday.
In addition to Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Canada and Montreal, its defunct U.S. parent Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd., six former employees in the United States and Canada were charged under the Railway Safety Act for failing to ensure the train’s brakes were properly set before it was left unmanned the night of the disaster.
The same six as well as a seventh person also face charges relating to Fisheries Act violations following an Environment Canada investigation regarding the crude oil that flowed into Lac-Megantic and the Chaudiere River.
The July 2013 disaster claimed 47 lives in the small Quebec town and forced thousands from their homes as fire from the derailed train engulf a destroyed most of the town’s downtown core.
Most were represented by lawyers but train engineer Thomas Harding appeared alongside his lawyer, Thomas Walsh, at the courthouse on Thursday.
Walsh told The Canadian Press this week that his client would appear in person.
He called Thursday’s proceedings a “show trial” because he said none of the accused have any money to pay fines if they’re found guilty.
Walsh said he thought the federal government was going after his client as a way to distract the public from Ottawa’s shortcomings regarding rail safety.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada says the evidence was divulged to the accused during the hearing in Lac-Megantic, Que. and the case returns to court on Jan. 28.
The charges were announced initially at the end of June.
The six charged with the Railway Act violations are former railway president Robert Grindrod; company executives Lynne Ellen Labonte and Kenneth Strout; train driver Harding; manager of train operations Jean Demaitre; and the company’s assistant transportation director, Mike Horan.
A conviction on the summary charges carries a maximum fine of $50,000, a maximum jail term of six months, or both.
Those six, as well as railway traffic controller Richard Labrie, are charged in the fisheries case, which carries a maximum penalty of $1-million.
Already, Harding, Demaitre and Labrie have each pleaded not guilty to 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
That case, brought on by Quebec’s director of public prosecutions, returns to court on Dec. 1 to possibly set a trial date.