A legal expert says she would be astounded if a judge handed the maximum sentence to a semi-truck driver who has pleaded guilty to all 29 charges stemming from a devastating collision with a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team.
Jaskirat Singh Sidhu pleaded guilty in Melfort, Sask., court on Tuesday to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
The maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death is 14 years. It’s 10 years for dangerous driving causing bodily harm. A sentencing hearing for Mr. Sidhu, 30, is to begin Jan. 28.
Jennifer Quaid, who teaches law at the University of Ottawa, said the overwhelming scale of last spring’s tragedy isn’t the only factor the sentencing judge will have to weigh.
“Yes, it’s an extremely serious accident and there are multiple counts. There’s one for each victim,” she said. “But he is also a first-time offender. He’s young.”
It’s impossible to know the full calculus that went into Mr. Sidhu’s decision to plead guilty rather than make his case at trial, said Prof. Quaid, who added that she can’t see a scenario in which Mr. Sidhu avoids prison time entirely.
It could well be that upon seeing the Crown’s evidence against him, his defence decided it was not worth facing trial, she suggested. Heightened emotions and intense media scrutiny also may have made him loathe to draw things out.
Mr. Sidhu’s lawyer, Mark Brayford, said on Tuesday his client didn’t want to make things worse by having a trial and that he’s devastated by the grief he’s caused the victims’ families.
Prof. Quaid said Mr. Sidhu’s remorse is likely to be a factor at sentencing.
“That’s something that will resonate. That’s going to be up to the judge to assess the sincerity and credibility of the remorse.”
Prof. Quaid added the judge will probably acknowledge Mr. Sidhu’s actions weren’t the only factors in the crash, given concerns have been raised about visibility at the rural intersection near Tisdale, Sask., where the crash occurred.
The owner of the Calgary trucking company that hired Mr. Sidhu also faces several charges related to federal and provincial safety regulations in the months before the crash.
“This young man fits into an unfortunate pattern that we see with catastrophic events in the workplace: that [they] are disproportionately something that happens to young workers, to workers who are new to the job, to workers with little to no training,” Prof. Quaid said.
“Those are all factors that will play in the sentencing phase and will tend to mitigate the sentence.”