10th Anniversary of the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy

A Lesson in Nation-Building

– Diane Johnston –

July 6 marked the 10th anniversary of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy that resulted in 47 deaths, more than one suicide and untold and ongoing grief and concern for the citizens of that small Quebec municipality. It has also steeled their resolve and given rise to amazing resilience on their part.

Ten years after the incident, the fight is far from over as increasingly long trains (up to 5 kilometres) carrying dangerous goods continue to traverse downtown Mégantic at higher speeds.

Since the tragedy, the community has doggedly sought to ensure that all measures are taken to ensure that such an event never occurs again. Initially, they sought a rail bypass that would divert trains from carrying dangerous goods through Lac-Mégantic. When it became clear that the rail bypass project being imposed by Transport Canada and Canadian Pacific (CP) is unsafe for the municipalities of Mégantic, Nantes and Frontenac, they withdrew their support.

Moreover, the current bypass project upholds the key arrangement which the people object to, that the government gives control over such important matters to private interests, blocking the people from having any say. A bypass that is made in the name of safety, but only serves to uphold private interests at the people's expense will not do. For the federal government to abdicate its role, as it has already done in permitting the railway monopolies to self-monitor the implementation of safety regulations, is unacceptable and will only ensure that another tragedy like the one in Lac-Mégantic in 2013 is merely a matter of time.

On June 14, less than a month before the tragedy's 10th anniversary, the Trudeau government announced it would be moving forward with the land expropriation requested by Transport Minister Omar Alghabra in order to commence construction on the rail bypass this fall.

In mid-July, lawyers representing some of the residents concerned filed a request for an injunction in federal court, seeking to suspend the expropriation process until the case can be heard on its merits. Frédéric Paré, one of their lawyers, says the federal government did not follow proper procedure and that seizing properties is premature because the Canadian Transportation Agency has yet to approve the construction of the bypass.

Residents' concerns, however, go far beyond expropriations. During public consultations in May, some 63 parties and their lawyers raised objections to the bypass. These objections include that added curves could trigger derailments and that the majority of residents in the three municipalities affected by the proposed bypass route (Lac-Mégantic, Nantes and Frontenac) are opposed to it. They also say that alternate routes have not been properly studied and that the cost of the project has exploded, with the federal and Quebec governments footing the bill for the increases, and CP Rail becoming the future owner of the bypass.

The most recurring concern, by far, is over the project's environmental impacts, such as the loss of wetlands, the lowering of the water table and the proposed project's impact on wells and waterways.

Over the last ten years, well-researched books, a graphic non-fiction book, a documentary, a documentary series and reams of articles have kept the tragedy of Lac-Mégantic uppermost in our minds.

Not only has the Lac-Mégantic tragedy united a community and steeled their resilience and resolve; it continues to call upon and motivate Quebeckers and Canadians to contribute their talents in exposing what happened and why those responsible must be held to account, so that such catastrophes are prevented from ever happening again.

In building a society in our image, the first step is to call out what we do not want and why.

Demonstration demands rail safety measures in Lac-Mégantic, July 10, 2016, three years after the rail disaster.

On this sad anniversary, we pay our deepest respects to all the victims and their families. We also wish to highlight the contributions of Anne-Marie Saint-Cerny[1], Robert Bellefleur and the Coalition des citoyens et organismes engagés pour la sécurité ferroviaire de Lac-Mégantic[2], Bruce Campbell[3], Philippe Falardeau[4] and posthumously our own Pierre Chénier[5] of the Workers' Centre, who have worked tirelessly to expose the truth about what happened and seek a path forward.

With profound sadness and anger the Quebec working class learned of the terrible tragedy that struck Lac-Mégantic. Banner in photo from July 10, 2013, reads  "With all our hearts, we are with you."


1. Mégantic: A Deadly Mix of Oil, Rail and Avarice, Anne-Marie Saint-Cerny, Talon Books, June 2020; A Train in the Night: The Tragedy of Lac-Mégantic, Anne-Marie Saint-Cerny, Between the Lines, October 2022.

2. La Coalition de Citoyens et organismes engagés pour la sécurité ferroviaire de Lac-Mégantic.

Interviews with Robert Bellefleur conducted by Pierre Chénier:

"The Rail Bypass Must Be About the Recovery of the Mégantic Community, Not Canadian Pacific Profits," Workers' Forum, May 20, 2022

"Citizen Action Essential to Ensure Rail Safety," TML Weekly, July 11, 2020

"New Rail Line Bypassing Town Centre Needed Soon," TML Weekly, July 9, 2016

3. The Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster Public Betrayal Justice Denied, Bruce Campbell, James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Publishers, 2018.

4. Lac-Mégantic – This Is Not an Accident, documentary series directed by Philippe Falardeau

5. Articles written by Pierre Chénier

"Community Residents Must Have Decisive Say in the Project and Their Future," Workers' Forum, March 27, 2023

"Residents Continue to Demand Safe Rail Bypass in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec: Hold Governments to Account!," Workers' Forum, February 9, 2022

"Lawsuit Against Canadian Pacific in Lac-Mégantic Tragedy: Residents and Activists Demand Answers and Rail Safety Protection," Workers' Forum, October 25, 2021

"7th Anniversary of Lac-Mégantic Tragedy: The Need to Build a Public Authority that Defends Public not Private Interests," TML Weekly, July 11, 2020

"Fifth Anniversary of Lac-Mégantic Tragedy: Hold Rail Monopolies and Governments Accountable!," TML Monthly, July 11, 2018

(With files from the Government of Canada, The Canadian Press, Lac-Mégantic — This Is Not an Accident, Workers' Forum, La Coalition de Citoyens et organismes engagés pour la sécurité ferroviaire de Lac-Mégantic, TML Weekly. Photos: S. Poulin, town of Lac-Mégantic)

This article was published in
Number 40 - July 26, 2023

Article Link:


Website:  www.cpcml.ca   Email:  editor@cpcml.ca