Victims' families object to Quebec committee's quest for role in MMA bankruptcy

MONTREAL – The families of several victims of the deadly rail crash in Lac-Megantic, Que., are opposing a bid by a committee involving the Quebec government, municipal authorities and other victims for official standing at a railway’s bankruptcy proceedings in the United States.

The families of 18 of the 47 victims of the July 6 derailment and explosion told a U.S. court in Maine that they object to the Quebec group’s efforts to be appointed as an official creditors’ committee representing the provincial government, the municipality and some wrongful death and personal injury and property damage claimants.

“The families who lost loved ones believe they have specific interests that should be defended by their own committee,” their lawyer, Daniel Cohn, said in an interview.

“They welcome help from the government, but they understand that it (the government) could (use compensation) for cleaning environmental damage. They want their fair share.”

Objections have also been filed from various other parties, including the court-appointed trustee overseeing Montreal Maine & Atlantic’s bankruptcy. A hearing is set for Oct. 1 in Bangor, Maine.

Last month, the Quebec government appointed Luc Despins, a bankruptcy specialist with standing in New York state, to make representations on behalf of the committee.

In his motion, he urged the judge to recognize the committee that represents creditors with the “largest claims” against the railway and the “entire spectrum” of victims.

“I want to be very clear: there is no animosity among the Quebec government, the City of Lac-Megantic and the victims,” Despins said Tuesday in an interview. “Quebec has already said that victim compensation was the priority.”

Robert Keach, the court-appointed trustee in the proceedings, said inclusion of the creditors’ committee was unnecessary because he represents the interests of all claimants, including the victims and those who filed class-action suits in Illinois. More than 20 lawsuits were filed after the derailment.

Recognizing the Quebec committee would unnecessarily increase administrative costs of the case and “sap what limited resources of the debtor exist,” Keach wrote.

Family members said a committee with such wide interests would be “dysfunctional by definition.”

They added that governments are prevented by the bankruptcy code from serving on official creditors’ committees and can represent their own interests.

Forty-seven people were killed and much of the centre of the picturesque Quebec town was destroyed after an unmanned, runaway train derailed and exploded.

The crude oil that exploded in Lac-Megantic was as volatile as gasoline, but was documented as a less-dangerous product akin to diesel or bunker crude, the Transportation Safety Board has said.

The investigation into the crash continues.

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