Lac Mégantic: Criminal Negligence Defined


The Lac Mégantic train explosion has raised a lot of questions about legal responsibility for the damage, injuries and deaths.

Media reports have mentioned the possibility of criminal action in the courts. This article explains the legal concept of criminal negligence.

What is criminal negligence?

To find someone guilty of criminal negligence, the judge or jury must find that all these elements are present:

  • The person accused of criminal negligence did something or failed to do something he or she was required by law to do.


  • The actions of the accused showed an extreme or dangerous disregard for the lives or safety of other people..


  • The actions or inaction caused injuries or death.

To know whether there was extreme or dangerous disregard, the behaviour of the accused must be compared to that of an ordinary, careful person put into the same situation.. In other words, would a careful person have been able to predict the impact of the behaviour?

The accused can be found guilty even if he or she did not intend to cause any harm.

Possible Punishments

A person found guilty of criminal negligence causing injuries can be given up to 10 years in prison. If the negligence caused death, the maximum penalty is life in prison.

To learn more about criminal law, see these articles:

Introduction to Criminal and Penal Law

Differences Between Civil and Criminal Cases

Citizens who were victims of the accident and their relatives can find further information in a kit prepared by the Québec Bar (PDF (391K) document in French only).