Chris Joseph sees a certain amount of irony in the fact that the same day he’s receiving an award from the NHL Alumni Association for advocating for stricter laws governing Canada’s transportation industry and better safety on buses, Canadians are going to the polls to elect a new federal government.
The former NHL defenseman, whose son, Jaxon, was one of the 16 people killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash 18 months ago, was in Toronto Monday to receive the Ace Bailey Award of Courage from the NHL Alumni Association for his, “compassion, openness and determination to make Canada’s roads safer.” And Joseph is honored to accept the award, but on the same day Canadians elect new lawmakers, he can’t hide his frustration with a government he says, “has literally done nothing since April 6, 2018.”
He said the current Liberal government has mandated that all new coach buses will come equipped with seatbelts starting in 2020 and that it would mandate that all provinces get on board with mandatory entry-level training for all truck drivers by 2020. With respect to the seat belt on buses, Joseph said it does not do anything about the issue of retrofitting buses built prior to 2020 to include seatbelts, nor does it provide any mechanisms for policing the wearing of seatbelts. “We say, ‘Big deal’ because if a new coach bus comes in this year, it’s on the road for 25 more years and there are no seatbelts,” Joseph said. “And even if a bus has seatbelts in 2020, who polices it, who makes people wear them and who changes the culture? On that note, it was a very empty promise.”
Part of the problem, Joseph said, is that highways are a provincial issue, something the survivors of the Humboldt crash have been trying to change. One thing they’ve been trying to do is to get the government to regulate the Class-1 commercial licensing process to become a nation-wide skill of professional drivers, which would give potential drivers the opportunity to qualify for funding to support their training. Some provinces have been on board, most of them haven’t.
Joseph points out that air, marine and rail travel all fall under the umbrella of Transport Canada, but the one that has the most interaction with the public every day, is not. In fact, the driver of the truck that slammed into the Broncos bus on that fateful day, Jaskirit Singh Sidhu, was driving a semi-trailer based out of Calgary. “They keep pawning it off by saying, ‘This is a provincial matter,’ ” Joseph said. “But it isn’t a provincial matter when an Alberta trucker drives across the Saskatchewan border. You can’t say, ‘This is an Alberta problem.’ No, because you killed people in Saskatchewan. All truckers are crossing provincial borders every day.”
If Joseph sounds remarkably well versed in the nuances of Canada’s highway transportation series, it’s because he is. Since his son’s death, he has taken a very active and very public role in advocating for changes. As a former NHL player and the father of one of the players killed in the worst tragedy in Canadian sports history, he realizes he has a platform to affect change. As he points out, it has not happened yet, but that will not deter him from continuing to fight.
“We feel an obligation to fight for all those other people who didn’t get all the attention,” Joseph said. “There are people who die every single day. Let’s say a semi-truck hits an F-150 and there’s a 25-year-old kid driving it, he doesn’t get the attention we got, and that’s not fair. It’s the same cause, it’s the same death. If anyone is going to speak up it should be use because people listen to us now.”
When you listen to Chris Joseph speak, there are messages of both despair and hope. This will continue to consume much of his time and there are days when he feels as though he’s knocking his head against a brick wall. But the hopeful part is much of the reason why the NHL Alumni Association has chosen to honor him. Joseph often uses the analogy of New Zealand, where 51 people were killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in March and within 48 hours there were sweeping gun control measures introduced. Joseph will not rest until the memories of his son and the others who were killed and injured on that bus are honored with substantive and real changes in the trucking industry.
“It could take the rest of my life,” said the 50-year-old Joseph. “But I won’t stop. I won’t stop because I don’t want to stop. I feel like this is what Jaxon wants me to do.”
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