A court in Canada has held Canadian Pacific in contempt for not following a federal provision governing the hours that train crews work.

The decision, rendered Tuesday by Judge Ann Marie McDonald, found that CP — now CPKC (NYSE: CP) — didn’t sufficiently limit the number of hours that train crew members can work in 22 out of 38 incidents occurring in 2018 and 2019. As a result, CP failed to abide by two collective agreements with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), and it didn’t fully follow Transport Canada regulations.

According to TCRC, Transport Canada regulations dictate that rail employees may work a maximum of 12 hours, or they may work a maximum of 10 hours under certain provisions of the collective agreement. 

Violating these rules and guidelines may result in crew fatigue, TCRC said, which in turn can be a factor in train derailments. At least 32 train derailments from the early 1990s to mid-2022 had crew fatigue as a factor, according to TCRC, quoting a statistic from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. 

“Canadian Pacific recklessly puts lives on the line in forcing so many train crews to work longer than allowed. They do this because they operate under the dangerous delusion that they are above the law, and that it’s OK to ignore the court orders on safety issues. This company needs to smarten up and stop putting profits over people before another tragedy occurs,” François Laporte, national president of Teamsters Canada, said in a Wednesday release. 

The penalties are still to be determined, although CPKC said in a statement that it “was disappointed by yesterday’s decision by the Federal Court. We respectfully disagree with the Court’s decision and will be filing an appeal.”

According to the decision, CP had argued before the court that reaching 100% compliance with the current mandate is not possible because train operations can be highly complex and there are circumstances beyond CP’s control. These two factors can prevent CP from fully complying with the mandate. 

But the judge said the issue was not whether it is impossible for CP to comply with the mandate, since those discussions should be made in another forum, such as the collective bargaining process. 

In agreeing to comply with the mandate, “CP assumed the contractual obligation to comply with the terms of the Consolidated Collective Agreement or face the consequences of non-compliance,” McDonald said in her decision. “It is not a persuasive defense to the allegation of contempt of Court that CP, by its own conduct, essentially concedes it has not strictly complied.”

The judge also said an arbitrator in the proceeding between CP and the TCRC noted that violations number in the “thousands,” but that the court case focuses on 38 instances between June 2018 and April 2019.

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