Judge for your­self

No envy for the judge who must de­ter­mine sen­tence for truck driver in Hum­boldt bus crash

Medicine Hat News - - COMMENTS - Paul McLen­nan

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.

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