Judge for yourself
No envy for the judge who must determine sentence for truck driver in Humboldt bus crash
The sentencing hearing for Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, the driver of the truck in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, is scheduled to begin on Jan. 28. I am sure that almost everyone has an opinion as to what the appropriate sentence is for this young man. I also have no doubt that many have strong and unwavering positions in this matter.
Many of us will cling to one or two issues as the major determining factor in our position and will be unpersuaded by other points of view. A judge will be in a very unenviable position trying to consider all the factors that require consideration in order to arrive at a just sentence somewhere between probation and life in prison. No matter what that penalty is, there will be those who are dissatisfied.
Is there a previous criminal or traffic record? Was he properly trained? Was the vehicle in good order? Was the sun in his eyes? Was he distracted? Was the intersection poorly designed? Does he have remorse? Will he be a repeat offender? What will be the expectation of the members of 29 families? All of these questions and many more will be asked and answered during the sentencing hearing. All involved will no doubt have an opportunity to state how they feel and how the incident has affected their lives. The level of devastation to many of these families is inconceivable to most of us, however, so is the level of guilt that Mr. Sidhu must be experiencing and will experience until his dying day.
As a police officer for more than 35 years, I am an avid supporter of the rule of law and of consequences for actions and of accountability of individuals for their deliberate actions. I also know that as a police officer, I was rarely dealing with people who were at their best. More often than not, I was dealing with people who were in crisis or at the low end of their social interactions for a number of reasons. We all have bad days and we all make mistakes. The consequences of those mistakes can have a wide range of effects on our lives going forward.
How does our justice system treat our mistakes and is it fair? I think most of us think it is fair that if you deliberately take a life, you spend life in prison. If you deliberately and seriously injure someone while trying to steal from them, you deserve punishment. If you damage or steal someone else’s property, then you deserve to be punished, all the while taking into account all of the appropriate circumstances and facts.
I doubt that there is a single one of us who drives a car that has never failed to come to a full stop at a stop sign or exceeded the speed limit at some time. Most of the time there is no other vehicle coming that would result in an accident or injury. If we are unlucky there is a police officer nearby who shows up to give us a ticket and require us to pay a fine for our mistake or lapse in attention. If we drive drunk, and get caught, the consequences are more serious. We will pay a larger fine, get suspended from driving or maybe even go to jail if we persist in this deliberate behaviour.
The Canadian Criminal Code contains additional charges and penalties for these same offences should we injury or kill someone. In other words, the same distraction or inattention that results in a ticket for going through a stop sign, can suddenly be a criminal offence if while going through that stop sign, you run into another vehicle and cause injury or death to someone. We do not get charged with the offence of going through the stop sign. We get charged for the consequences of that action rather than the action itself.
In the case of Mr. Sidhu, for whatever reason, he failed to stop at a stop sign. The consequences in that case are beyond catastrophic. He made the same mistake that most of us have made at one time or other. How would it have been different if the bus was a small car or the truck was just a small car? It is hard to imagine how circumstances managed to align in this case, but they create an unimaginable set of circumstances for a judge to consider.
To decide this issue, one must see it from all perspectives in an attempt to reach a just conclusion. I do not envy the judge his task.
Paul McLennan moved to Alberta more than 20 years ago as a member of the RCMP. He remained in Alberta after retirement in 2002, taught driving part time and settled in Medicine Hat in 2011.