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Gov’t prepares trial of framed-up Quebec rail workers

By John Steele - The Militant, February 20, 2017

At a Jan. 26-27 hearing here, Superior Court judge Gaétan Dumas began to set the stage for the September trials of framed-up union locomotive engineer Tom Harding and dispatcher Richard Labrie, along with Jean Demaitre, a Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway manager.

The rail workers are being framed by the government for the July 2013 derailment and explosion of a runaway Montreal, Maine and Atlantic crude oil train in downtown Lac-Mégantic, a city of 6,000 near the Quebec-Maine border. The disaster killed 47 people and leveled the town center. All three are charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence and could face life in prison if convicted. Harding and Labrie are members of United Steelworkers Local 1976.

The judge ruled that the bankrupt and dissolved railroad, which has no assets or legal counsel, will be tried separately.

“The prosecution has absolutely no intention of going after the MMA,” Thomas Walsh, one of Harding’s lawyers, told the Militant Jan. 30. “They want to go after Tom Harding. The charges against the MMA are window dressing.”

An exposé in the Toronto Globe and Mail and the official report of the Transportation Safety Board have made it crystal clear that it was the railway bosses’ profit-driven disregard for safety, and complicity of the federal government agency Transport Canada, that were responsible for the disaster.

Under a strict Montreal, Maine and Atlantic policy to save time and money, the Globe showed, Harding was forbidden from activating the train’s automatic air brakes, which would have prevented the parked train from rolling into Lac-Mégantic that night. And Transport Canada gave the MMA approval to run their dangerous oil trains with a bare bones “crew” of one.

Separating the railroad out for its own trial is reasonable, Charles Shearson, who spoke for Harding at the hearing, told the Militant. “The jury will have more focus on the trial of Harding and the others.”

“We believe the judge should call the prosecutors’ bluff and hold the trial of the MMA before the trial of Harding, Labrie and Demaitre,” Walsh said.

Shearson said another pretrial hearing set for April will address a motion by Walsh to enter the Transportation Safety Board report and supporting documents as evidence, and to let the defense call board officials to question them.

Robert Bellefleur, spokesperson for the Citizens’ and Groups Coalition for Rail Safety in Lac-Mégantic, which is campaigning for the government to build a rail bypass around the town, attended the hearing to show the widespread support for Harding in Lac-Mégantic.

Anne-Marie Saint-Cerny, a writer who is working on a book about the disaster, also came. “One cannot but wonder how justice can be totally served in such a tragedy, when only low-ranking employees are on the stand for the death of 47 people,” she told the Militant. “Those who gave the orders, set the rules and ran the training — those who own the company — are all off limits, holed up in United States.”

“The fight against the frame-up of Harding and Labrie is important for working people across the country and elsewhere,” said Philippe Tessier, Communist League candidate for mayor of Montreal, who attended the hearing in solidarity. “Defeating this frame-up will strengthen the ongoing fight by rail workers everywhere who are struggling for rail safety, for themselves and all those who live and work along the tracks.”

Messages in support of Harding and Labrie can be sent to USW Local 1976 / Section locale 1976, 2360 De Lasalle, Suite 202, Montreal, QC H1V 2L1. Copies should be sent to Thomas Walsh, 165 Rue Wellington N., Suite 310, Sherbrooke, QC Canada J1H 5B9.

Bosses’ profit drive caused Lac-Mégantic rail disaster

By John Steele - The Militant, February 6, 2017

“We have a very strong defense, which will show that Harding was not criminally responsible for what happened and get at the truth of who is really responsible for the disaster at Lac-Mégantic,” Thomas Walsh, attorney for locomotive engineer Thomas Harding, told the Militant Jan. 5. Because of continual delays, which have stretched over three years, Walsh and Harding had considered demanding the charges be tossed out. “But the people of Lac-Mégantic and Harding want and deserve a trial,” he said.

Harding and train controller Richard Labrie — both members of United Steelworkers Local 1976 — and Jean Demaitre, operations manager for the now defunct Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, face frame-up charges of 47 counts of criminal negligence in relation to the July 2013 Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster that killed 47 people and burned out the downtown core. If convicted, the three could face life in prison.

Walsh said that at the upcoming Jan. 26-27 court hearing in Sherbrooke, Quebec, he will demand a court order to give the defense access to the original reports and documents that the federal Transportation Safety Board used to prepare its report, as well as a separate English-language trial for Harding.

Since the disaster, the official report of the board and a hard-hitting series of articles in the Globe and Mail, Canada’s English-language daily, have shown that the cost-cutting profit drive of the rail bosses, along with complicity from Ottawa’s Transport Canada agency, was the cause of the deadly disaster.

“Company rules prevented Harding from using a 10-second procedure to activate the automatic air brakes that would have prevented the disaster, in order to save 15 minutes of start-up time the next day,” Brian Stevens, National Railway director of Canada’s largest private sector union Unifor, told a Dec. 8 University of Ottawa conference on the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

In addition, company bosses with permission from Transport Canada forced workers to run the railroad’s trains with only a single person, the engineer.

“Train accidents happen regularly all over the world,” Walsh told La Tribune Sherbrooke. “Most of the time it’s the engineer who is fingered in these rail catastrophes.”

The rail bosses’ utter disregard for safety in their drive for profits was highlighted again when Transport Canada officials laid charges Nov. 15 against the Canadian Pacific Railway and two former CP managers under the Railway Safety Act. They are charged with illegally ordering a freight train crew — over strenuous objections from the conductor and engineer — to park a 57-car train carrying dangerous goods on a slope above the town of Revelstoke, British Columbia, and leave it unattended without the handbrakes applied.

This was a direct breach of emergency directives by the government established after the Lac-Mégantic disaster, Transport Canada says.

The incident took place on Feb. 15, 2015, hours before the Teamsters union strike deadline at the railroad.

Some 3,000 Canadian Pacific rail workers went out on a Canada-wide strike against the rail bosses’ moves that endanger workers and those who live along the tracks. Union pickets wore vests saying “fatigue kills,” pointing to Canadian Pacific’s efforts to increase work hours between rest periods. The union ended the strike after one day when the government threatened to impose strike-breaking legislation.

CP representatives and the two former managers are set to appear in court in Revelstoke Feb. 1.

Solidarity messages for Harding and Labrie can be sent to USW Local 1976 / Section locale 1976, 2360 De Lasalle, Suite 202, Montreal, QC H1V 2L1. Copies should be sent to Thomas Walsh, 165 Rue Wellington N., Suite 310, Sherbrooke, QC Canada J1H 5B9 or thomaspwalsh@hotmail.com.

What Have We Learned From the Lac-Megantic Oil Train Disaster?

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, December 21, 2016

Brian Stevens first learned about the Lac-Megantic disaster — in which an unattended oil train caught fire and exploded, killing 47 people in the Quebec town — when he saw the news reports on TV.

Stevens is currently National Rail Director for Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, but he previously spent 16 years as an air-brake mechanic working on trains. At a recent conference in Ottawa examining lessons from the 2013 Lac-Megantic rail disaster, he recounted his reaction to seeing those initial scenes of destruction.  

That ain’t Canada, that can’t happen in North America because our brake systems won’t allow that,” he said when he eventually learned the images he was seeing were from Canada. “My heart sank … It was crushing.”  

Stevens went on to explain his opinion of the root cause of the problem, summing up the challenges in Canada with one simple statement: “The railways write the rules.” 

He also placed blame on the deregulation of the Canadian rail industry that began more than three decades ago.

Lac Megantic started in 1984. It was destined to happen,” said Stevens, referring to the start of that deregulation.

One example of the effects of deregulation can be seen in the cuts to the number of people conducting inspections, from over 7,000 railway and rail car inspectors in 1984, down to “less than 2,000” now, according to Stevens. 

He didn't mince words about what he's seen change in the three years since Canada's worst rail accident.

“The railway barons continue to exist and continue to drive the industry and the government,” said Stevens.

If You Care About Railroad Safety You Must Defend Tom Harding

Editorial - Railroad Workers United, Highball, Winter 2016

Practically every North American railroader now knows about the tragic train wreck in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in July, 2013. With its tremendous loss of life and destruction, the disaster made headlines around the world. In the aftermath of that accident, as we discussed it amongst ourselves, details became known. One of those details was that within days of the wreck the locomotive engineer of the runaway train, Tom Harding, was arrested and ultimately charged. He and his Dispatcher face the possibility of life in prison if found guilty as charged. No company official of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MM&A) – the railroad upon which the wreck took place - nor the company itself have faced criminal charges.

To this day, there is confusion and disinformation circulated about that matter. For those of us in the fight for rail safety, it is imperative that we know the facts. This is key not just to prevent a grave injustice, but to prevent future repetitions of that incident and to stop the dangerous push by the rail carriers to deflect all liability for the consequences of their policy decisions and simply blame-the-worker every and any time there is an accident or injury, fatality or disaster.

Some railroaders – even a few known as safety conscious can get this issue wrong. Because conscientious trainmen and engineers take safety on the job so seriously, taking personal responsibility comes as second nature to us. No one wants to be seen as making excuses for a co-worker who doesn't take his/her job or their co-workers' safety seriously. As a result, some raise arguments that perhaps Tom Harding is guilty of something, that maybe he deserves to be charged. Therefore, it is crucial that we examine the facts.

Oil “Bomb” Train, Lac-Megantic Solidarity Protest

The following protest took place on October 12, 2015 at the Consulate General of Canada in Chicago, at Randolph and Stetson, 1 block east of the NE corner of the Randolph and Michigan and was endorsed by Railroad Workers United following #RailCon15

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

No Oil Bomb Trains in Lac-Mégantic, Chicagoland or Anytown. Keep the explosive oil in the soil and out of our towns!

The coalition of groups endorsing this action are determined to send the message that we stand with the railroad workers in their efforts to keep our communities safe from the inherent dangers of these volatile oil trains, and that the railroad and oil corporations involved in the tragedy of July 6th, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic are the principal offenders. Specifically, we demand:

  • 1. More than one man crews for all freight trains, especially the High Hazard Flammable Trains, such as the Bakken oil trains. In light of fatigue and emergency situations, a single man crew is insufficient for handling all possible dangerous scenarios.
  • 2. No oil should be transported through Lac-Mégantic by rail until all the tracks in the town have been repaired and passed inspections. The people of Lac-Mégantic have been adamant about this and their demands should not be ignored.
  • 3. We agree with the victims and residents of Lac-Mégantic when they call for the Canadian government to stop scapegoating Mr. Harding, the engineer of the train involved in the Lac-Megantic disaster. The residents are asking for further investigations, and that the blame for the accident climb up the chain of command and throughout the entire unsafe infrastructure of the railroad and oil corporations.
  • More information can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/events/920554121361635/
  • Endorsed by: Chicagoland Oil By Rail, Pilsen Alliance, McKinley Park Progressive Alliance, Chicago Greens, Frack Free Illinois, Near West Citizens for Peace and Justice, 350Kishwaukee, Forest City 350, Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, Railroad Workers United, Fox Valley Citizen's For Peace And Justice

Framed-up rail workers win support in Quebec town

By John Studer - The Militant, September 21, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

LAC-MÉGANTIC, Quebec — After less that 15 minutes, Judge François Tôth ordered further delay in the Canadian government’s frame-up campaign against rail workers Thomas Harding and Richard Labrie, as well as company operating manager Jean DeMaître. They are threatened with life in prison, as scapegoats for the July 6, 2013, disaster where a crewless Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train carrying 72 cars of crude oil rolled down a grade, derailed and burst into flame, destroying the downtown here and killing 47 people.

Tôth set a Dec. 1 court “management hearing” where lawyers for the government and the defendants would discuss potential witnesses and possible trial dates, and debate a government proposal to move the trial from Lac-Mégantic to Sherbrooke, a college town some 100 miles away.

“The crown doesn’t want the trial in Lac-Mégantic,” Thomas Walsh, attorney for Harding, told the Militant, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and other media after the hearing. “But it is the people here who were affected. They are in the best position to judge. All they want is justice.”

And many know Harding, who has been running trains through the area for years. They think the wrong people are in the dock.

“The big bosses should be charged. They’re the ones that gave the orders to the workers who had to carry them out,” Sylvie Carrier, an auxiliary nurse at the local hospital and member of the Quebec nurses union, told Communist League member John Steele from Montreal and this reporter as we went door to door showing people coverage on the defense campaign from the Militant and asking them what they thought.

EcoUnionist News #30

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, February 9, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

  • Register now for the Future of Railroads: Safety, Workers, Community & the Environment Conferences: Richmond, California (March 14, 2015) and Olympia, Washington (March 21, 2015) - railroadconference.org

USW Refinery Workers Strike News:

Crude by Rail:

Carbon Bubble:

Green Jobs and Just Transition:

March for Real Climate Leadership:

Other News

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

Rail Industry Fights Speed Limits, Brake Regulation in Quest for Profits

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, October 23, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Earlier this month Hunter Harrison, the CEO of Canadian Pacific told the Globe and Mail that he thought regulators have “overreacted” to the oil-by-rail disaster in Lac-Megantic that killed 47 people.

Lac-Mégantic happened, in my view, because of one person’s behaviour, if I read the file right,” Harrison said.

As detailed by DeSmogBlog, he didn’t read the file right. The accident was directly related to lack of regulation and the railroads putting profits before safety.

Harrison’s choice of words echoed those of American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard commenting on the new proposed oil-by-rail regulations when he stated: “Overreacting creates more challenges than safety.”

Yea, that’s right, according to Big Oil and Big Rail, the biggest threat to the 25 million people living in the bomb train blast zones is the overreaction of regulators.

The rail industry is now spending a lot of time pushing back on the new regulations on train speed. As anyone with a basic understanding of physics knows, the speed of the train is a critical factor in the severity of any accident.

Gregory Saxton, chief engineer for rail tank manufacturer Greenbriar, made that clear at a National Transportation Safety Board conference on oil-by-rail safety in April.

Kinetic energy is related to the square of velocity. So if you double the speed, you have four times as much energy to deal with,” argued Saxton. “Speed is a big deal.”

Speed is also a big deal when it comes to profits. Canadian Pacific’s Harrison recently explained to the Wall Street Journal that his main focus on improving profits was on increasing train speeds, “This next stage of growth is driven by a lot of things, a little bit here, a little bit there, but it’s effectively all the things that impact train speed and train velocity.”

And just as Harrison has arrived at his own incorrect conclusion about Lac-Megantic, he has once again ignored the facts when it comes to the relationship of speed to rail safety. DeSmogBlog reported Harrison’s comments earlier this year on a conference call talking to investors about rail safety.

I don’t know of any incidents with crude that’s being caused by speed. We keep slowing down in this North American network over the years. We don’t get better with speed. We get worse.”