3 men charged in Lac-Megantic disaster out on bail; lawyer questions arrest
Published Tuesday, May 13, 2014 10:23AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 13, 2014 10:24PM EDT
The lawyer for one of the three men charged in connection with last summer’s Lac-Megantic train derailment is questioning why a tactical team “descended” on his client’s home to arrest him at gunpoint in front of his son.
Thomas Harding, the train conductor, was arrested in his backyard Monday as he worked on his boat, his lawyer Thomas Walsh told CTV News Channel Tuesday.
Police forced Harding and his son and family friend onto the group face-down, before cuffing Harding and taking him away, Walsh said.
“I don’t really know what the purpose of that show was.”
Walsh said he and his client had been “sort of pre-warned for a long time” that the Crown was planning to lay charges. Before the arrest, Walsh said he had been in contact with the Crown, asking prosecutors to let him know if and when charges will be laid so that Harding could voluntarily appear in court.
Harding was one of three men charged Monday in the railway disaster. He had parked the train carrying crude oil for the night on July 6, 2013, before heading to a motel to sleep. During the night, 60 tanker cars came loose and rolled backward into the town. At least five tankers exploded, levelling 30 buildings and killing 47 men and women.
Also charged Monday were the now-defunct Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd., and two MMA employees, Jean Demaitre and Richard Labrie.
The three men appeared in a makeshift courtroom in Lac-Megantic on Tuesday afternoon where, collectively, they faced 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death. They each had to post $15,000 bail before they were freed on various conditions.
Under the conditions, they are forbidden from changing their addresses and from working in the rail industry without proper supervision.
Rene Verret, a spokesperson for the Crown prosecutor’s office, told reporters outside court that the accused face a maximum sentence of life in prison, if convicted. If the railway company is convicted, the court can impose a fine, he said.
Although MMA is defunct, the company still has a “legal existence” in Canada, Verret said.
Some residents of Lac-Megantic who gathered outside the courtroom said they believe that railway company executives and chairman should be the ones held responsible for the disaster.
"We can't judge these people -- they work for the MMA," Danielle Champagne, whose daughter Karine died in the fire, said of the three men who were charged.
"These aren't the bosses of the MMA."
Walsh said his client has been trying to keep a low profile since the disaster and mostly stays at home working on his boat and caring for his ailing mother.
He said Harding has been living with the stress of having been involved in the disaster that killed so many people, calling it “a huge moral burden” to bear.
“Quite apart from what your legal responsibility may or may not have been, you always say, ‘I could have done something more, I should have been more alert to this, I should have thought of this.’ You’re always haunted by what you could have or should have done,” Walsh said.
The charges come a full 10 months after the disaster and just days before the closing of the sale of the bankrupt railroad.
With files from The Canadian Press