Lac-Mégantic rail disaster trial begins today with jury selection

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The criminal trial for the three men charged in the Lac-Mégantic train derailment that killed 47 people in the Quebec town has begun in Sherbrooke with the lengthy process of selecting a bilingual jury.

On trial are engineer and train driver Thomas Harding, train operations manager Jean Demaître and railway traffic controller Richard Labrie from the now-defunct Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway.

Each faces 47 charges of criminal negligence causing death in connection with the crash on July 6, 2013. All three men have pleaded not guilty.

Quebec Superior Court Judge Gaétan Dumas is presiding over the trial, which is expected to finish by Dec. 21.

How jury selection will work

The Lac-Mégantic trial will be entirely bilingual, since Harding is anglophone, while Demaître and Labrie are francophone, so it is crucial that the selected jurors are comfortable and well-versed in both languages.

The judge said his goal Monday was to determine the bilingualism of potential jurors and begin hearing exemption requests.

Potential jurors will likely face a series of questions to test their knowledge of both English and French.

Under the Criminal Code, a jury must be have a minimum of 10 people to render a verdict, but it is common to have 12 jurors in case someone has to drop out. A judge may even request up to 14 jurors be selected for trials expected to last several months.

Of those summoned, some potential jurors may request an exemption for a number of reasons, including age, health or professional duties.

QUE TRAIN FIRE 20130714

The train derailment lead to the deaths of 47 people in Lac-Mégantic in July 2013. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

After the exemption portion is complete, potential jurors will then be asked questions to verify their impartiality.

“It should be known that the criteria is not to know if a person has heard of a case or not, but to know if the person is able to put aside everything they will hear outside of the courtroom and only judge based on the evidence that is presented within the courtroom,” said Jean-Pascal Boucher, a spokesperson for Quebec’s director of penal and criminal prosecutions.

It is not known how many people have been summoned for jury duty.

Timeline of procedures:

  • May 13, 2014: The day after they were arrested, Harding, Labrie and Demaître were brought to Lac-Mégantic, where they were formally charged before being liberated.
  • April 20, 2015: The three men pleaded not guilty to the charges.
  • April 12, 2017: The location of the trial was officially changed to Sherbrooke instead of Lac-Mégantic.
  • Sept. 11, 2017: Jury selection begins.

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Lac-Mégantic rail disaster trial begins today with jury selection

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