March 23, 2016 - 6:30 PM
MONTREAL - The lawyer for the train driver charged in the Lac-Megantic derailment that killed 47 people in 2013 wants a stay of proceedings in the case against his client.
Thomas Walsh filed a court petition last week on behalf of Tom Harding and alleges his client's charter rights have not been respected by the Crown, which has refused to outline its case and opted not to have a preliminary hearing.
A date for the stay motion to be heard hasn't been set, but Walsh said in an interview Wednesday it's impossible to plan a defence without knowing the Crown's arguments.
Harding, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie, train operations manager Jean Demaitre and defunct railway company Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway have each pleaded not guilty to 47 charges of criminal negligence causing death.
That reflects the number of people who died after the parked train carrying crude oil broke loose and derailed, setting off massive explosions that decimated a large part of Lac-Megantic's downtown core on July 6, 2013.
The charges were filed almost two years ago. Last year, the Crown was granted a preferred indictment, whereby a case goes directly to trial after bypassing a preliminary hearing often used to test the evidence.
The accused have opted for trial by jury.
Walsh says without an inkling of the Crown's case, a future trial will play out like a professional wrestling match.
"You throw everybody in the same cage and there's an orgy of finger pointing and the jury comes up with the best response it can in the light of all that," Walsh said. "I don't think that's a proper or fair way to do a criminal trial."
Walsh's 27-page Quebec Superior Court filing, dated March 17, also makes reference to Harding's heavy-handed arrest by provincial police, arguing it was abusive.
He called the arrest by a tactical unit in May 2014, nearly 10 months after the tragedy, an attempt to destabilize his client. Walsh alleged the goal was to shame evidence out of Harding.
The case is scheduled to return to court on April 4, but a number of motions will be heard beginning April 20.
They include requests to have the trial moved out of Lac-Megantic and others dealing with divulging evidence and getting the Crown to lay out its case.
On the venue front, Demaitre's lawyer, Christiane Filteau, says the request to move the trial is based on logistics.
She said finding bilingual jurors in a largely francophone area would be difficult, as would locating impartial jurors given that many locals belong to various class-action lawsuits. The makeshift courthouse isn't equipped for a such a trial, she added.
"I want it in a jurisdiction other than Lac-Megantic," Filteau said. "It's up the judge to decide, depending on what's available (elsewhere)."
Walsh has previously said he wants an English trial in Lac-Megantic, so a bilingual jury would be necessary if everyone is tried together. He's mused about a separate trial for Harding, but can't make that call without knowing more about the Crown's case.
Jean-Pascal Boucher, a spokesman for the director of criminal and penal prosecutions office, had no comment other than to say such debates would take place in the courtroom.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016