It was a tragedy that struck the hearts of not just Canadians, but the hearts of those all across the globe. Any family whose second home was the local ice rink. Any family that had ever gotten up at 6 in the morning for hockey practice. And any family whose kids would drive out of town for a tournament, this tragedy felt like a loss on a personal level.
Last year, the Humboldt Broncos bus crash sent a shock wave across the nation. As the Broncos made their way to a Game 5 against the Nipawin Hawks, the team bus collided with a semi-truck. The RCMP reported 16 fatalities, with the remaining passengers receiving mostly serious injuries.
With situations like these, people ask for answers. Why do things like this happen? How did this happen? And especially, who is to blame for loss of such magnitude?
As details came out, we learned that this nightmare was avoidable. 29-year-old Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, the driver of the semi-trailer, was 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 injury. On January 8, 2019, Sidhu pleaded guilty to these charges, and just today, was sentenced to 8 years in prison.
With the sheer amount of pain caused by the actions of one man, it is easy for observers on the outside to be angered. It was a clear, sunny April day and there was nothing to obscure Sidhu’s view of an approaching stop sign, according to the agreed statement of facts. The sun was not in his eyes, the road was not affected by any inclement weather and the intersection was clearly visible before the collision.
As Sindhu stood before a judge, he pleaded guilty to all charges. His position was clear. “I just want to plead guilty. I don’t want you to plea bargain. I don’t want a trial. I don’t want to make things any worse. I can’t make things any better, but I certainly don’t want to make them worse by having a trial.” His lawyer also noted that “he wanted the families to know that he’s devastated by the grief that he’s caused them.”
Sindhu’s actions were irresponsible. They were careless, and they were wrong. He should be punished for his actions that day, as they came at a huge cost, the lives of 16 people.
But what good does vengeance do?
There has been a type of outcry online that the sentence that Sidhu received was too light. That eight years isn’t enough for the horrible loss of life, and the blood that is on his hands. It is true, the number may seem low at first compared to the number of lives lost, serving only about 6 months for each of the deceased. But the absolute burden and guilt that Sidhu has expressed that he is feeling will surely plague him for the rest of his life. In his own words, “It happened because of my lack of experience, and I am so, so, so, so sorry.”
The voice of the victims
Forgiveness is important. Yes, it is easy for me, someone who was not affected at all by the crash to say this. But we can look to the parents, the lovers, and the families of those immediately affected, and learn from what they have to say as well.
“I want to tell you I forgive you,” said Darcy Haugan, wife of one of the victims. “I have been forgiven for things when I didn’t deserve it, so I will do the same.”
One of the victim’s fathers recently opened up about his encounter with his son’s killer, meeting him privately. He stated that his shirt “was wet with [Sidhu’s] tears.”
“I feel horribly for Mr Sidhu, I really do. I feel horribly for everyone involved in this. So have I forgiven him? Yeah, what other option do I have? I don’t think I have another option in order to maintain my own sanity.”
Another parent, Tricia Wack expressed similar feelings in an op-ed letter.
“To Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, I say the following. I forgive you. Since Stephen’s death in the crash that day, I often ask myself, what would Stephen think, say or do? The answers often govern my actions,” Wack wrote. “I can say with conviction that my son Stephen would forgive you. Stephen was a spiritual young man with a strong faith in God; he practiced forgiveness with an open heart and was compassionate by nature.”
Sidhu will be spending the next eight years of his life in prison. With him, he will take a heavy heart, and endless thoughts of the destruction that his actions alone caused. What would life in prison do? Projecting our anger into a sentence is not productive. It was a travesty, yes. But perhaps we all need to remember that forgiveness is not just for the other person, but also for ourselves.