7th Anniversary of
The Need to Build a Public Authority that Defends Public not Private Interests
July 6, 2020 marked the seventh anniversary of
the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, one of the worst train disasters
in Canadian history.
On the evening of July 5, 2013, a freight train
comprised of five locomotives and 72 tanker cars, unsuited for the type
of crude oil they carried, was left unattended in Nantes, in Quebec's
Eastern Townships. At around 1:00 am the train started to roll down the
slope towards the town of Lac-Mégantic. Shortly after, 63 of
the tanker cars derailed in downtown Lac-Mégantic, spilling
their contents and causing a series of fires and explosions of
Forty-seven people were killed and many others
were injured. Downtown Lac-Mégantic was destroyed. The
Chaudière River and the lake itself were heavily
contaminated by the crude oil spill.
The people of Lac-Mégantic suffered
heavy loss of life and property as well as environmental destruction
because of the frenzied pumping of crude oil in North Dakota's Bakken
fields to serve the U.S. war machine and the machinations of
the U.S. against sovereign nation-building projects such as
that of the Venezuelan people. Suddenly, old worn-out tracks
were declared perfectly suitable for such shipments, unsuitable tanker
cars became suitable, and years of state-organized rail industry
deregulation served rail and oil monopoly greed and prepared the
conditions for the disaster.
On this occasion of the seventh anniversary of the
tragedy, the people of Lac-Mégantic held commemorative
ceremonies and reiterated their urgent demands for rail safety. They
have been fighting without ceasing since the tragedy of July 6, 2013 to
rebuild their lives, which cannot be done without improved rail safety
and without a say and control by the community over the measures that
are to be taken.
On the occasion of the 7th anniversary the city of Mégantic
inaugurated an Espace
dedicated to the 47 victims.
A main demand is for a bypass track, which the
federal and Quebec governments have now committed to build by 2023, so
that dangerous goods will no longer be transported through
Lac-Mégantic's downtown core. Rail communities affected by
train derailments -- which continue to occur regularly across Quebec,
Canada and the United States -- are greatly inspired by the
steadfastness of the Lac-Mégantic community, backed by all
of the people of Quebec.
The fight of the Mégantic people and of
so many rail communities is difficult and challenging as they are up
against the state-organized deregulation of the rail industry in the
service of rail monopolies and the oil and gas industry. They are also
up against the biggest challenge of all which is that governments no
longer constitute a public authority. They are a wing of the narrow
private interests which have usurped the state apparatus.
The conditions for the Lac-Mégantic
tragedy were prepared during thirty years of wrecking activities by the
state and the rail monopolies.
To name just a few, in the 1990s, national rail
companies such as CP and CN were allowed by the Liberal government to
get rid of regional lines under the hoax that they were not profitable.
Some were sold to vulture U.S. companies in the business of buying and
selling rail companies, which cut the workforce, did not maintain the
lines and lowered safety standards. When CP got rid of many regional
lines, the regional line that includes Lac-Mégantic ended
up, in 2003, in the hands of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway
(MMA), the owner at the time of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy.
In 2001, the Liberal government at the time
introduced the Safety Management System (SMS), a self-regulating safety
system that rail companies themselves devise and which Transport Canada
merely audits and whose content is kept secret from the workers and
communities with the ruse that this is to protect the competitiveness
of the rail companies.
In 2012, the Harper government authorized MMA to
run its trains with a one-man crew. Again the conditions that had to be
met for the government to grant the authorization were never made
public, under the sham of protecting MMA as a private business.
Anti-social concepts such as "risk management,"
"safety as a cost that has to be balanced against the other costs
companies have to pay," and "competitiveness" have become the name of
the game at the expense of the rights and safety of, and in spite of
the voice of the communities.
Today, claiming these are private business
decisions, the Canadian government is turning a blind eye and letting
CP, for example, put maximum pressure on office workers to drive and
load trains instead of hiring professionally trained locomotive
engineers. Near-miss tragic accidents have been reported but this is
all part of "risk management" under which everything is declared fine
until tragedies happen and governments and companies express sorrow and
concerns and nothing changes. Rail companies are now using
inexperienced people equipped with remote control belt packs walking
alongside trains to assemble and disassemble trains in yards, instead
of having experienced locomotive engineers direct the operation from
the locomotive itself. This has led to an increase in runaway trains.
The fact is that
seven years after the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, the dangers to
human life, property and the environment are even more acute due to the
criminal negligence of the railway monopolies, supported by
governments. They claim their overriding responsibility and most urgent
task is to remain competitive with other carriers nationally and
internationally at any cost, with governments taking no responsibility
and refusing to hold the monopolies to account. They also claim more
and more that the human factor is the cause of accidents and tragedies
and that unless the process is 100 per cent mechanized, with no workers
involved, rail safety will continue to deteriorate and be subject to
Workers and communities reject this anti-social
outlook and these anti-social practices. It is thanks to their
activation of the human factor/social consciousness that the demand to
provide real problems with pro-social solutions exists and is firmly
planted as the basis for opening a path to progress. Even as
workers and communities keep pushing their immediate demands for
measures to enforce safety in terms of working conditions, required
personnel, maintenance of the tracks, safe stationing of trains and the
bypass track, they continue to suffer the daily trauma of repeat
accidents because of the government's anti-human approach to the
problem. The trauma they suffer is not just post-traumatic, but the
present foreboding that at any time the mischief could be
Any authority worthy of the name must
have mechanisms that enable those affected by the decisions taken to
have the decisive say over what decision is to be taken, how it is
implemented and how it is monitored. Governments and the
narrow private interests they serve must be held to account for their
anti-human, anti-social and irresponsible response to the demands of
the Lac-Mégantic community.
Lac-Mégantic was a tragic and profound
eye-opener as to how the neo-liberal outlook and practice of placing
all of society's assets at the disposal of the global monopolies
directly led to the self-regulation of the railways and to criminal
negligence causing death and chaos, as well as joint attempts by the
private owners and the government to blame the workers. The people of
Lac-Mégantic have faced the tragedy with immense courage and
with the support of people from all over Quebec, Canada, the U.S. and
the world. All together, the people are fighting to put an end to these
tragedies by empowering themselves so that they can exercise control
over their lives.
On the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the
tragedy, our warm salute to the Lac-Mégantic community who
continue to rebuild their lives and to make an important contribution
to the fight for the security of all.
This article was published in
Volume 50 Number 25 - July 11, 2020
7th Anniversary of
Lac-Mégantic Tragedy: The Need to Build a Public Authority that Defends Public not Private Interests - Pierre Chénier