Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Transport Canada’s “classified” Lac-Mégantic payment

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In a curious role reversal, Canada’s former Minister of Transport, now opposition politician Lisa Raitt, has revealed that the Canadian government quietly paid C$75 million toward compensation for victims of the 2013 oil trains disaster that killed 47 in the Quebec resort town of Lac-Mégantic.

Under a settlement agreement supervised by Quebec courts, the payment shields Transport Canada from civil lawsuits on behalf of victims’ families—despite the clear finding of accident investigators that the government department was a primary malefactor in the disaster.

Raitt’s torpedoing of the government’s inexplicable silence was published May 2 by The Canadian Press news agency. That was a few days after her successor, Marc Garneau, declared that the amount was “classified” and would not be released by the Liberal government elected last October.

Raitt noted that the specific amount had in fact been anticipated in published spending plans announced by her Conservative government before its defeat.

A total of 24 parties have acquired civil law immunity by paying into the C$460 million compensation fund, including oil train consignee Irving Oil (C$75 million) and owner of the in-transit cargo, World Fuel Services (US$110 million).

Revelation of the newish government’s quiet participation in the settlement comes after the union representing Transport Canada rail inspectors charges that, before the Lac-Mégantic calamity, inspectors had recommended against allowing the defunct Montreal Maine & Atlantic to operate hazardous materials trains with one engineer working alone. Senior Transport Canada executives allegedly overruled their recommendations.

Both Raitt and her successor Garneau said the settlement does not admit any liability of Transport Canada in the catastrophe that disrupted the then-booming business of shipping crude oil by rail with new operating regulations and enhanced safety standards for tank car construction.

Both the previous and current governments have steadfastly refused to acknowledge the clear censure by the country’s accident investigation authority. In its final report released last August 19, the Transportation Safety Board said Transport Canada had failed in its duty to regulate and supervise rail safety.

“If the guard dog doesn't do its job, then indeed it is to blame,” said the TSB's chief operating officer Jean Laporte when asked whether Transport Canada was the culprit-in-chief.

Direct requests by Railway Age for copies of the inspectors’ reports have been ignored by both Transport Canada and the minister’s office. A formal request filed under the country’s freedom of information laws has been pending since March 18. The legislated deadline for a response expired without acknowledgment April 18.

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