If there’s one person in Saskatchewan we don’t envy right now, it’s Judge Inez Cardinal, who is tasked with determining the sentence for the semi-truck driver in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.
The sentencing hearing for the crash was last week in Melfort. It had to be held at a community hall in the small city, because the court room wasn’t large enough to accommodate all of the people who wanted to be in attendance.
As you would expect with a case like this, with 16 people killed and 13 more injured, there was a long list of individuals who wanted to give victim impact statements. A total of 90 were read out; there likely could have been hundreds more.
And now Cardinal has to decide how long the driver, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, will spend behind bars.
In many cases, a judge can draw on legal precedence. She can look at previous sentences for dangerous driving causing death or bodily harm. But in this instance, with 16 fatalities and 13 more injured, there is no precedent to draw from.
This sentence will set a new precedent; it’s one that we hope will never have to be drawn upon again.
The emotions stemming from the bus crash are still running high for many, not just for the friends and the families of the victims – of which there are many in the Estevan area – but among those who were deeply moved by the tragedy.
They want to see as stiff of a sentence as possible for Sidhu. They’ll argue that Sidhu should spend many years, possibly even the rest of his life, behind bars for taking the lives of 16 people and injuring 13 others. Many of the injured will have to deal with the physical and mental injuries for the rest of their lives.
People will question how he couldn’t have seen all the signs that indicated there was a highway junction approaching. He says he was preoccupied with the tarp flapping behind the truck, but was he looking at the tarp for the entire distance from that first sign to the junction?
The Crown has asked for a 10-year sentence. Many people will hope the judge will impose a much stiffer sentence that will ensure Sidhu won’t even be eligible for parole for more than 10 years.
Then there are those who point out that Sidhu’s sentence should be much less than 10 years, that he wasn’t acting maliciously, that he was not ready to be driving the large semi-trailer unit on his own. They’ll argue that his greatest punishment will come when he is deported from Canada, which is a virtual guarantee since it’s almost certain he’ll get more than six months in prison.
(The argument for more stringent driver training for semi-trailer unit drivers is another debate for another time, but it’s good to see that both Saskatchewan and Alberta are moving forward with higher standards. And few would argue against tougher standards).
There are also mitigating factors to consider.
Sidhu thankfully pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility for his actions, rather than forcing the families to go through the pain of a long trial. And you could see during the sentencing hearing that he is very remorseful for his actions. His guilty plea appears to stem from genuine accountability, rather than self-preservation.
And then there is the issue of his probable deportation from Canada.
But it would be a mistake to portray Sidhu as a virtuous character for pleading guilty, or as a victim because he’s facing eventual deportation. The only victims in this case are the people who were aboard the bus that day, and the families and friends who have been affected.
Set a strong precedent. Give Sidhu 10 years, or close to it.
The sentencing on March 22 will represent another chapter in moving forward from the collision. A lenient sentence, though, would only serve to cause more pain for the victims of the families.