This week in Melfort, Sask., a judge will likely decide the fate of Jaskirit Singh Sidhu, the man who has pled guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm in connection with the Humboldt Broncos bus crash last April. But that will not come before some 75 victim impact statements are read, a process that began Monday morning and will likely stretch until Wednesday morning.
The thing about our legal system is that it is supposed to be void of emotion. When someone commits a crime, it is done so against the state, not against a specific individual. The victims are not the state’s clients, so in a legal sense, Sidhu did not commit a crime against the Humboldt Broncos or the Haugen family, or the Brons family, or the Thomas family. Victim impact statements are one of a number of factors a judge must take when considering a sentence, but there are not hard and fast rules governing how much weight they should receive.
But in this case, perhaps more than many others, these stories must be heard. They have to keep being told, both for the healing of the families involved and for us as a society.
We need to keep hearing that Marilyn Cross, the mother of assistant coach Mark Cross, misses the smell of his laundry…with the exception of his hockey equipment, that she misses occasionally buying him junk food such as Trix and Double Stuffed Oreos.
We need to hear how Scott Thomas, whose son, Evan, was killed in the crash, is no longer afraid of dying because he knows he’ll see his son on the other side. We need to know that Thomas and his family can no longer live in their house because Evan’s room is right next to his sister’s room and that there can be no semblance of sanity until they leave that place.
We need to hear how Nick Shumlanski’s mother had to quit her job because going to it required her to drive by the crash site every day.
We need to hear how Glen Doerksen, the bus driver who has been cleared of any culpability in the crash, died before he could watch his son get married this past summer and that he “would have been the life of the party” had he been there.
As difficult as it is to hear, we need to hear the pain of Robin Lukan, who also lost her son in the crash. We need to hear that she has no forgiveness for Sidhu and that she must mask her emotions to the young children she teaches because, “(they) won’t understand why Mrs. Lukan is sad, why she’s angry.”
We need to know that Logan Boulet’s sister “wanted to die,” when she found out her brother was not going to survive the crash. We need to know that he would have been attending the University of Lethbridge hoping to become a teacher, like his mother, Bernadine.
We need to hear every painful word of every painful story. We also need to hear the compassion they have for Sidhu and his family. We need to hear that Sidhu was not a bad person, but one who was clearly not qualified or competent enough to carry a load of peat moss in a semi truck and trailer across the prairies that day. As a number of family members said, Sidhu did not wake up the morning of April 6, 2018 with the intention of killing 13 people and maiming another 13. But the fact of the matter remains that he had violated 51 federal trucking regulations and another 19 provincial ones related to the logging of his trips. Had he been stopped the day of or the day before the incident, he would have been placed under a 72-hour out-of-service declaration, which would have prevented him from being on the highway as the Broncos were travelling to their playoff game in Nipawin.
We need to hear these things because we need to do everything we can to prevent them from ever happening again. The next time a well-meaning volunteer charters a bus to take a bunch of kids to an out-of-town hockey tournament and he or she is faced with the decision to take a higher-priced bus equipped with seatbelts or a cheaper ride without one, that person needs to remember the pain those families are enduring. When lawmakers ponder regulations regarding the trucking industry and enacting seatbelt laws on buses, everything they do and every regulation they make should be done with the voices of those families guiding them.
Former NHLer Chris Joseph, whose son Jaxon died in the crash said his family has been looking for a bad guy and they have concluded it is not Sidhu, but something has to change. “That company in Melfort that was hauling peat moss, they get a bid from Bison Transport, a big trucking company,” Joseph said. “But then they get a bid from Adesh Deol and it’s half price. Well, why is it half price? It’s half price because they’re cutting corners. So which one are they going to go with? They’re going to go with the one who’s going to get it there cheaper. They have to standardize the industry and we’re all going to pay a little more, but at the end of the day the roads are safer because we’re all trained better. And the good trucking companies would thank us for that because they’re doing things right and they’re not getting rewarded.”
And that is why we must hear these stories. In the end, there is no sentence long enough or harsh enough to change anything that has happened. But if we all keep in mind how much these families have suffered, it might just lead everyone to do the right thing in the future.