Fatal derailment prompts petitions urging feds to end private railway policing

The Canadian government now has a 45-day deadline to take a stand on railway safety, says an NDP MP.

Two petitions aimed at holding rail companies accountable for the safety of its employees, the public and environment were presented in the House of Commons on Monday by NDP MP Niki Ashton, who cited CBC’s recent coverage of issues within Canadian Pacific and the Transportation Safety Board. 

The push for government action is motivated by “the pursuit of justice” for Dylan Paradis, Andrew Dockrell and Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer, three Calgary-based rail workers who were killed when their train derailed near Field, B.C., in 2019, said Ashton in sponsoring the petitions.

Ashton, who represents the Manitoba riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, said on her YouTube page that the petitions seek “an end to the government’s complicity with CP” and demand “the abolition of private policing on Canada’s railways.”

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) found the train’s brakes failed, causing 99 cars to roll down a mountain and derail, including the lead locomotive, which landed in the Kicking Horse River — despite the entire train having passed a visual inspection in Calgary the day before.

A lawsuit filed by two of the victims’ families alleges CP had a history of using “bad ordered” cars that had malfunctioning brakes and other mechanical defects.

WATCH | MP Nikki Ashton presents the two petitions signed by hundreds of Canadians in the video below:

It wasn’t until last December that the RCMP opened a criminal probe, and only after a formal complaint from Paradis’s mother, and public whistleblowing by two investigators — a TSB investigator and a former CP railway police officer — who voiced suspicions of negligence.

‘Grotesque level of complacency’

The whistleblowers’ calls for outside police to step in prompted two petitions by the families of the dead crew.    

One calls for formal whistleblower protections for TSB investigators who come forward with concerns of potential criminal wrongdoing.

The other petition calls for a national inquiry into the police services owned by CP and CN Railways, which the families’ lawyer Tavengwa Runyowa calls “corporate capture of government.”

Earlier Monday, CBC News published a story about CP threatening to sue the TSB after one of its investigators went public, urging RCMP involvement in the fatal derailment.

Ashton said CBC’s story “makes clear the grotesque level of complacency between the government, the TSB and CP.”

“It is clear the current system is designed to protect corporate interests, not the safety of workers and the public interest,” said Ashton as she tabled the petitions to the House of Commons on Monday.

Despite an inspection one day earlier, brakes on CP grain train 301 failed, according to the Transportation Safety Board. (CBC)

CP threatened lawsuit against TSB

Following the derailment, the Canadian Pacific Police Service (CPPS) investigated the actions of the crew but not the company. Meanwhile, the  Transportation Safety Board is conducting a safety probe and its lead investigator has publicly called on RCMP to step in.

Investigator Don Crawford had become concerned with potential criminal negligence by CP mid-way through his gathering of evidence. 

Crawford’s role was to make safety recommendations, not assign blame. But as lead TSB investigator, he said he had uncovered enough evidence to suspect negligence and wanted the TSB to call in the RCMP, yet his bosses refused.

After Crawford’s comments aired on CBC, CP immediately launched into damage control, according to internal emails obtained through access to Information. CP lawyers threatened a lawsuit and successfully demanded Crawford be removed from the case, causing rail safety experts to question the nature of the relationship between the safety watchdog and a private company. 

“TSB investigators like Don Crawford must be able to do their jobs independently from meddling from private companies, they must be properly protected from interference,” said Ashton in sponsoring the petitions. 

The TSB’s safety findings in the crash are expected to be released later this year.

A ‘botched company investigation’ alleged

CPPS officer Mark Tataryn also went public with concerns over the investigation.

In January 2020, Tataryn told CBC News he believed there was a “coverup” orchestrated by CP.  

He said his superiors prevented him from looking into the maintenance history of the train, was denied access to radio transmission recordings from the night of the crash, and was denied the chance to talk to managers who gave orders to leave the train parked on the mountain the night of the disaster.

CPPS, which is owned and paid for by the railway, looked only into the actions of the three crew members, according to a January 2020 email sent by Chief Al Sauve to CBC News. 

“Railways can not be allowed to police themselves,” said Ashton.

“The tragic circumstances of that night were made even worse by the botched company investigation that followed.”

The first petition calls on the federal government to launch an inquiry into Canada’s private railway self-investigation model and the consequences on the thousands of criminal investigations involving railway fatalities, injuries, explosions and environmental disasters. 

The second calls on the government to grant TSB investigators authority to refer potential criminal violations to independent police forces, and to protect whistleblower employees under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. 

The government now has 45 days to respond, indicating whether it intends to act as the petitions request.

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