Three months after a collision with a semi-trailer killed 16 people connected to the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, charges have been laid against the driver and Saskatchewan and Alberta plan to tighten the training of drivers of large vehicles.
Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, 29, was arrested on Friday morning at his home in Calgary and charged with 16 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death and 13 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm.
But while family members called the charges a necessary step, many said questions still remain about what happened.
“It doesn’t change anything,” said Isaac Labelle, whose brother Xavier was injured. “It won’t bring anyone back.”
Mr. Sidhu was in custody and is expected to appear in court in Saskatchewan next week. The RCMP refused to release any details of their investigation into the events that led up to the crash, pending the court process.
Superintendent Derek Williams noted, though, that Mr. Sidhu did not face any charges of impaired driving.
The offences of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm or death carry maximum sentences of 10 years and 14 years, respectively.
“I know it’s been difficult for many to await the outcome of this police investigation; the time it took to do this work – this important work – was necessary,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said.
The bus carrying the Broncos to a playoff game collided with a semi-trailer on a rural Saskatchewan highway on April 6, killing 16 people, including 10 players. Another 13 were injured. The truck driver, who was not hurt physically, was taken into custody that night and then released hours later.
The truck belonged to a small firm in Calgary – Adesh Deol Trucking Ltd. – and was shipping peat moss from a plant not far from the crash site. The company’s licence was suspended by Alberta Transportation in the days that followed the crash, which the ministry described as routine.
On Friday, Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason said ways to improve trucking safety could be announced within two weeks and will include qualification and training of drivers of large vehicles, how to test drivers in all licence categories and how better to regulate the trucking industry.
He also said results of a review of intersection safety on Alberta’s highways should be available by the end of the summer.
Tom Straschnitzki, whose son Ryan was paralyzed from the chest down, said he was relieved charges were laid.
“It should put a little closure to the first step and the second step is … let’s see what the courts do and find out what exactly happened,” he said. “I think that’s what people want to know. What exactly happened? How it did happen and why it happened.″
Mr. Straschnitzki said he and his wife, Michelle, hadn’t thought much about charges in the three months since the crash.
“We were just too focused on Ryan and just had the faith in the RCMP that they did a lot of hard work to get it done. I guess we’ll just wait and see in the courts.″
The crash sparked an international outpouring of support for the victims and their families that crystallized into an online fundraising campaign that brought in $15-million. The team set up a non-profit organization to oversee the fund and is still sorting out how to distribute that money.
Supt. Williams said the investigation involved more than 120 RCMP personnel, combing through records, interviewing five-dozen witnesses and using 3-D technology to determine what happened. He declined to speak about what caused the crash but said charges were not laid until the Mounties had evidence the truck was “being operated in a manner that was a danger to the public.”
None of the allegations has been proven in court and Mr. Sidhu has not had a chance to enter a plea or offer a defence.
The Humboldt Broncos released a statement on Friday saying the organization has faith in the courts and will be watching as the legal process unfolds.
The trucking firm’s owner, Sukhmander Singh, told The Globe and Mail in a brief interview that he was unaware of the charges. He said he had no comment when asked about his employee involved in the crash.
In April, Mr. Singh told The Globe the driver had only recently started working for the company.
“The driver is not doing well, the guy is going to the doctor, the guy is scared, the guy is not able to eat […], the guy is getting counselling,” he said during an interview then.
With a report from The Canadian Press