A truck driver who caused the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison by a judge who said she believed his remorse was sincere, but she had to consider the serious consequences for so many people.
“Families have been torn apart because of the loss,” Judge Inez Cardinal told court in Melfort, Sask. “They are prone to depression, anxiety or outbursts.”
She also spoke of the survivors, who she suggested “are putting on a brave face in an attempt to be strong.”
Jaskirat Singh Sidhu of Calgary had pleaded guilty in January to 29 counts of dangerous driving for killing 16 people and injuring 13 others.
He stood quietly and looked ahead at the judge as he was sentenced.
Cardinal said she approached the sentence knowing “nothing can turn back the clock” and noted the collision that occurred when Sidhu barrelled through a stop sign April 6 was avoidable.
“Mr. Sidhu had ample time to react … had he been paying attention,” she said.
“Somehow we must stop this carnage on our highways.”
The Crown wanted the 30-year-old Sidhu to be sent to prison for 10 years, while the defence said other cases suggested a range of 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 years.
“We’re disappointed. We knew we were going to be disappointed,” former NHL player Chris Joseph, whose son Jaxon died in the crash, said outside court. “There’s no number that would have made me happy.”
Mark Dahlgren, whose son Kaleb suffered a brain injury, said the sentence was “one more step in the process.”
“We have an anniversary coming up that is going to be very, very tough. And I hope after that maybe we can get back to whatever our new normal is for everybody.”
Sidhu’s lawyer Mark Brayford said nothing as he left the courtroom. He stood beside Sidhu’s uncle from London, England, as the man gave a brief statement outside.
“On behalf of my family, I would like to express my sincere sympathy to the 29 families,” Chanan Singh Sidhu read. “We also feel indebted to the families and the Canadian public at large for the support, sympathy and understanding they have shown … for my nephew and our families.”
Cardinal began her decision by reading aloud each victim’s name. She said the loss expressed in nearly 100 victim impact statements was staggering.
The judge said the people on the bus that afternoon were “not defined just by their association with hockey.”
“They were gifted athletes, community leaders, and team builders with hopes and dreams for the future … Some were dreaming of having a family, while others were already raising their families.”
Sidhu’s lawyers had told his sentencing hearing that he is remorseful and is likely to face deportation to his home country of India after he serves time.
Cardinal said his remorse, guilty plea and own psychological suffering saved him from a maximum sentence.
But she also spoke of aggravating factors. He had missed several signs about the upcoming rural intersection. His lapse of attention had been prolonged. His actions ended in a tragedy that forever changed families and reverbrated across the country.
“This was not a momentary loss of attention. He had ample time to stop his unit. Mr. Sidhu wasn’t speeding but his speed was excessive.”
The sentencing hearing heard that Sidhu was going between 86 and 96 km/h when he passed four signs warning him about the crossroads before he came up to an oversized stop sign with a flashing light.
“The Crown trusts that this message will send a very strong message to everyone using our highways … that criminal driving will not be tolerated,” prosecutor Thomas Healey said Friday.
Sidhu had been hired by a small Calgary trucking company three weeks before the crash. He had spent two weeks with another trucker before heading out on his own for the first time days before the collision.
Brayford had told court that Sidhu was distracted by a flapping tarp on the back of his load of peat moss.
The Humboldt Broncos hockey team issued a statement soon after the sentence.
“Having this legal matter settled and the sentencing complete is a big step in the healing process for the survivors, grieving families, our organization and the community of Humboldt and surrounding area,” said president Jamie Brockman.
Bill Graveland and Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press