It is a year today since the Humboldt bus crash. As with most Canadians Sharon and I know and will always remember exactly where we were at the time of the crash. We were in our room at the Temple Gardens Spa in Moose Jaw. I was watching a game on SportsNet when the program was interrupted to tell of the crash. The news just got worse and worse all night.
Over the past year there have been few days when the crash and its aftermath did not come up in some way.
At my law office I had consultations with two different people. Neither had family involved in the crash. Each was dealing with an issue related to the crash.
What has struck me is how well so many people, personally and professionally, have dealt with the consequences. It is a difficult concept to say there is anything “well” about a tragedy. Yet I consider a host of actions and reactions to have been done “well”.
First responders and medical staff whether on duty or not responded to the accident scene and hospitals to attend to the injured and take care of the deceased.
A young woman lawyer from our office went to the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon that weekend to volunteer to help the families of the injured and dead.
The televised memorial service from the Elgar Petersen arena in Humboldt two days later was a powerful event of public grief that was respectful and moving.
Our Prime Minister and our Premier attended as the leaders of our nation and our province not as partisan politicians. They expressed sorrow and offered sympathy. They spoke from the perspective of fathers.
As a sports columnist for 41 years I have observed and taken part in media coverage. At times media can be intrusive and inflammatory. In coverage of the crash and aftermath all forms of media were informative and provided thoughtful opinions.
The Go Fund campaign was dominated not by huge corporate contributions but by thousands of small donations as it reached over $15 million.
Canadians from coast to coast to coast, were inspired by a message and photo of a hockey stick received by former Humboldt Bronco (now Winnipeg Jets) broadcaster Brian Munz:
Leaving it out on the porch tonight. The boys might need it …. Wherever
Wanting to personally remember the team, put out hundreds of thousands Canadians put hockey sticks out by their doors and left the porch light on for the Broncos.
When a terrible mistake was made in misidentifying two players so that for two days it was thought one player was dead and another alive when it was the reverse the families involved did not let anger overwhelm them.
The focus was on the hurt and the dead not the driver and the facts of the crash.
After a time of national grieving it was time to deal with the actions of the driver who caused the accident by running a stop sign in his semi.
I was not involved in the criminal charges but I know well the Crown prosecutors, the lead defence counsel and the Provincial Court Judge who dealt with the case. The criminal proceedings were held in buildings but two blocks from my office. I admire all of the lawyers and judge for how they dealt with the case.
Out of the potential charges in the Criminal Code I thought dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm were the proper charges. In driving through the stop sign Mr. Jaskirat Singh Sidhu was criminally dangerous but there was an absence of aggravating factors such as alcohol to justify higher charges.
I wondered what Mr. Sidhu would do in response to the charges. I could see no defence. When he pled guilty to all the charges our nation, including myself, felt a collective sense of relief that there would be no trial and he had accepted responsibility for his actions.
At the sentencing hearing the victim impact statements of survivors and family members reflected their anguish and pain and struggles to understand. Some were unforgiving. Others forgave the driver. All were raw and direct.
When it came his time Mr. Sidhu expressed his remorse with sincerity. It is not often I see someone in court take responsibility so directly and simply. There was no effort to shift responsibility or provide excuses.
As with, I expect, every other criminal lawyer in Canada I thought about the proper sentence. A penitentiary term was certain. I felt he would be sentenced to 10 years.
When I heard Crown counsel, Tom Healey and Tyla Olenchuk, were submitting he should get 10 years I felt they had made a submission that fitted the law and facts.
I was glad it was Mark Brayford and Professor Glen Luther that had the challenge of defence submissions. I had been grateful I was not asked to defend Mr. Sidhu. I am not sure if I could have represented him.
They made a good decision when, after providing cases where accused had received sentences of 1.5 - 4 years, they did not make a direct submission on the length of sentence. They had raised issue with a term of 10 years but not provoked anyone over a lesser sentence.
Judge Inez Cardinal in a carefully prepared decision sentenced Mr. Sidhu to a term of 8 years. It was an appropriate sentence.
Late this afternoon Sharon and I watched the one year memorial service. It was again touching. Now that I am a grandparent the words from grandparents of the deceased on their loss resonated with me.
Surviving player, Tyler Smith, has a tattoo on the left side of his chest below the clavicle fractured in the accident and above his heart of 16 flying blackbirds in honour of the 16 who died in the crash. He said on TSN the tattoo keeps them with him every day.
Led by his family and in support of the “Logan Boulet Effect” tomorrow, April 7, will be Green Shirt Day. Canadians are invited to commit organ donation. Particulars of the day including how to register can be found at https://greenshirtday.ca/.
I have registered to be an organ donor.