MMA and former employees settle, fined $1.25 million in Lac Megantic case
By The Canadian Press
MONTREAL – The bankrupt railway at the centre of the Lac-Megantic train explosion as well, as several of its former employees, settled with federal prosecutors on Monday and were ordered to pay fines totalling $1.25 million, while one ex-railway worker was given a conditional jail term.
Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway, the company that owned the train that derailed in the small town killing 47 people, was found guilty in Quebec Court of violating the Fisheries Act after crude oil leaked into the Megantic Lake and Chaudiere River.
The company was ordered to pay the maximum fine of $1 million due to “the seriousness of the infraction,” said Josee Pratte, lawyer with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, which brought the charges.
Six ex-MMA employees pleaded guilty to violating the Railway Safety Act, namely for failing to ensure the convoy was properly secured the night before it moved on its own and derailed into the small town.
Five of them – Michael Horan, Jean Demaitre, Kenneth I. Strout, Lynne Labonte et Robert C. Grindrod – were ordered to pay $50,000 each.
Ex-train engineer Thomas Harding, who improperly parked the train on July 5, 2013, before leaving for the night, was given a conditional sentence of six months in prison, which will be served in the community.
Meanwhile, railway controller Richard Labrie was acquitted.
Harding, Demaitre and Labrie were charged separately in Quebec Superior Court with one count each of criminal negligence causing the death of 47 people, but were acquitted in January.
From the million-dollar fine levelled against MMA, $400,000 is payable immediately and will be put into a fund used to decontaminate the Megantic Lake and Chaudiere River.
Lawyers for the railway had a cheque for $400,000 in their possession on Monday. The money was set aside during bankruptcy proceedings for the U.S. branch of the railway company.
Pratte said it is uncertain how the court will collect the remaining $600,000, adding the financial status of the defunct and bankrupt railroad is “precarious.”
With regards to the fines charged to the five ex-employees, the money will go to the federal government.
Transport Canada, however, has agreed to hand over $250,000 to Avenir Lac-Megantic Fund, which was set up by the town to help with the economic recovery and reconstruction of the downtown area, something Pratte said has never happened before.
“To my knowledge, it’s a first in Canada,” she said, regarding Transport Canada’s decision to hand over money collected in fines to a local fund.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the redirection of the funds to the community-based, locally run organization is being done on an exceptional basis.
“This closes another chapter in this tragic story,” Garneau said in Ottawa on Monday.