There hasn’t been a sadder place to be this week than a make-shift courtroom set up in the gymnasium of the local recreation centre in Melfort, Sask.
It is there that sentencing arguments are being heard in the case of the driver whose semi-trailer collided with the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos, killing 16 people and injuring 13 others last April. Jaskirat Singh Sidhu pleaded guilty earlier to a commensurate number of charges of dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
All week, family members of those who died or were injured had the opportunity to speak about how the accident had affected their lives. Their statements have been almost universally heartbreaking, the magnitude of their grief and agony virtually incomprehensible to anyone who has been spared the pain of having a loved one ripped from them by some inexplicable tragedy.
From the archives: What we know about the Humboldt bus crash victims
Scott Thomas read a letter he’d written to his deceased son, Evan, which included the news that the family had sold the home where their young hockey-playing child had grown up. The memories of Evan existed in nearly every corner of the house, the father said, provoking a constant grief that was ultimately overwhelming.
Bernadine Boulet told Justice Inez Cardinal how her son, Logan, fought for 19 hours to stay alive before being taken off life support. She talked about how it was often the littlest things that reminded her of him, memories that made her chest tighten and her eyes flood with tears.
Also on display was something else, something equally profound: some forgiveness for the man responsible for all the anguish and sorrow. I must admit to feeling some empathy for Mr. Sidhu, who has been seated at a small wooden table silently listening as one person after another has described the life-altering events of April 6, 2018. Having to watch parents break down over a loss he’s responsible for has doubtlessly been painful for the 30-year-old truck driver. However, it’s been the occasional message of mercy and compassion that has provoked his tears.
Marilyn Cross, the bereaved mother of Broncos assistant coach Mark Cross, said she grieved for the guilt Mr. Sidhu would carry the rest of his life.
“In your future,” she said, “I hope you make every effort to live a productive life doing good wherever you go. Make the world a better place just like our son Mark did.”
Christina Haugan, the wife of Broncos coach Darcy Haugan, who also died in the accident, said there isn’t a single way in which the collision hasn’t had an impact on her family: her boys without a father, she without a man she adored and admired. But she added: “I want to tell you that I forgive you.”
I have thought a lot about her words, and those of other family members who see Mr. Sidhu as a victim in all this too. They know he didn’t set out that day to destroy lives. They know people make mistakes – some that come with consequences far, far greater than others. They know most of us have more than a few there-but-for-the-grace-of-God moments in our past.
Still, it takes enormous and inspiring reserves of kindness to forgive someone who has taken your child from you. There are some who will never forgive Mr. Sidhu; one mother, sobbing and gasping, looked at him directly and called him an “arrogant and inconsiderate monster with no regard for life or rules or laws.” We must respect this viewpoint as well.
The question now is what, if any, influence the victim statements will have on the judge, who must determine what an appropriate sentence is in this case. Will Justice Cardinal decide a tough sentence is necessary to serve as a deterrent for driver carelessness of this nature in the future? Will she take into account that Mr. Sidhu is already serving a lifetime sentence of remorse, with a burden of guilt written into his face on the stand that he will carry with him for the rest of time? Or will she consider that Mr. Sidhu pleaded guilty, freeing the families of the ugliness of a trial, and expressed deep remorse for his actions?
Fate is unforgiving and unexplainable. Had Mr. Sidhu blown through that intersection 30 seconds later, this story would be totally different. Maybe no cars or buses would have been arriving there at that time – who knows.
He must bear the consequences of his recklessness to be sure. But there should be no shame for feeling some sympathy for him also.