EDMONTON—The scale of the devastation and number of lives lost in the Humboldt Broncos crash was unprecedented, which means the driver’s sentence — expected to be handed down Friday — will be, too.
Both the Crown and the defence acknowledged Justice Inez Cardinal has a difficult task in meting out a just sentence because there has been no case like this in Canada.
Family and friends of the 16 people killed and 13 injured in the Humboldt bus crash will return to Melfort, Sask., on Friday to learn the fate of the semi driver who collided with the Broncos hockey team bus in April, changing their lives forever.
Driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu has already pleaded guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
Each charge of dangerous driving causing bodily harm comes with a maximum sentence of 14 years in custody, while every count of dangerous driving causing death carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Under the law, Sidhu could technically face a prison sentence anywhere between months or hundreds of years.
But while it would be technically possible for Cardinal to decide on a sentence for one of the dangerous driving charges and multiply it by the number of counts, the length of that sentence would likely run afoul of sentencing principles of proportionality.
In plain language, simply multiplying one sentence by the number of people killed and injured would result in a sentence potentially hundreds of years long that would be grossly out of step with the circumstances of the actual crime.
“We’re not as simplistic as an eye for an eye,” said Sidhu’s defence lawyer Mark Brayford.
It’s not as simple as looking at prior cases, either.
Crown prosecutor Thomas Healey said there were about two dozen examples of prior case law involving dangerous driving sentencings under similar circumstances, but none where there were so many casualties.
Healey argued in his submissions that the judge must consider how morally culpable Sidhu was for the collision.
The Crown argued Sidhu was driving a large vehicle that required special training to operate and that, in itself, indicates he should have shown an even greater degree of care for road safety than a regular driver.
At the scene, there were no skid marks behind the truck, showing Sidhu made no effort at all to slow his truck or stop before the crash.
“All he had to do was stop. That’s it, stop,” Healey said.
The defence argued Sidhu was genuinely remorseful and the crash was the result of human error rather than a deliberate unsafe action, mitigating factors which could have significant influence on Cardinal’s sentencing decision.
At his sentencing hearing in January, Sidhu listened and wept as loved ones poured their hearts out for three days, expressing the lifetime of grief his moment of carelessness caused.
“I have taken the most valuable things in your life,” said Sidhu, turning to face those gathered in the gymnasium of the Kerry Vickar Centre, struggling to get the words out through tears.
“I take full responsibility of what has happened,” Sidhu said. “It happened because of my lack of experience, and I am so, so, so, so sorry.”
Sidhu said he didn’t even know the devastation he caused until he crawled out of the overturned cabin of his semi on April 6 and heard the screams.
Court heard the truck Sidhu was driving blew through a stop sign at the intersection of Highway 35 and Highway 335 around 5 p.m.
“This wasn’t a rolling stop, this was more like a rocket,” said Healey.
According to an RCMP forensic collision report, Sidhu drove past four signs that would have warned him an intersection was coming up before running straight through the intersection, which was marked with an oversized stop sign with a flashing red light.
The weather was clear, and the flat prairie landscape makes the intersection plainly visible from a distance.
“How does someone miss all of those signs?” asked Healey.
Brayford said his client has no explanation.
“I can’t tell people what happened,” Brayford said. “He simply doesn’t know.”
At the same time, the Humboldt Broncos bus was travelling northbound on Highway 35.
The bus driver slammed hard on the brakes, skidding for 24 metres, but it was too late.
According to the RCMP’s report on the collision, the bus hit the side of the semi at approximately 100 km/h.
The driver of the bus reacted as quickly as humanly possible, court heard, but there was no way for the hockey team’s bus to have avoided the crash.
The bus was ripped into three pieces. The front third of the bus and the entire roof were torn from the twisted frame, the condition of the front of the bus described coldly in the RCMP forensic collision reconstruction report as “non-survivable.”
The bodies of the dead and injured were scattered amongst the debris. Hockey bags mixed with twisted metal, and bales of peat moss spilled from the overturned truck’s trailers littered the snow.
Many of the families of the dead and injured in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash gathered in the small Saskatchewan town in January for the sentencing hearing. While tragedy has forever tied the families together, over three days of heart-wrenching testimony, each expression of grief was unique.
Some were overcome with rage, calling for Sidhu to face the harshest punishment possible.
“You destroyed our lives, and this can never be undone,” cried Andrea Joseph, mother of Jaxon Joseph, 20, who died after being thrown from the wreckage, calling Sidhu an “arrogant and inconsiderate monster.”
Others called for mercy, not wanting to see another life wasted.
“His life should not be ruined by this mistake,” said Paul Jefferson, who was a billet father to both Parker Tobin, who died in the crash, and Tyler Smith, who was seriously injured.
Jefferson, believing Sidhu’s remorse to be genuine, told Cardinal a harsh prison term “would make him the 30th victim of this tragedy.”
Cardinal will make her decision in Melfort, Sask., on Friday at 10 a.m.
Claire Theobald is an Edmonton-based reporter who covers crime and the courts. Follow her on Twitter: @clairetheobald