Opinion

Driver in the Humboldt crash made a mistake — a horrific one — but one any of us could have made: Robyn Urback

We've all made mistakes on the road. We've missed a stop sign or zoned out. You don't remember because these slip-ups were unremarkable — mercifully, no one got hurt. You got lucky.

Most of us are fortunate that our mistakes are unremarkable

On Tuesday, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu pleaded guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. (Canadian Press)

Most of us have the good fortune of getting away with our idiot mistakes. Every one of us has driven too fast, or taken our eyes off the road for a split second, or operated a car on autopilot and arrived home having forgotten how we got there. Even you, skeptical reader, self-professed perfect driver, have made errors on the road; you don't remember because they were unremarkable — mercifully, no one got hurt. You got lucky.

Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, the driver of the semi-trailer that collided with the Humboldt Broncos team bus on a Saskatchewan highway last April, did not get so lucky. According to a preliminary statement of facts, Sidhu was not speeding, intoxicated or distracted at the time of the collision. The intersection where his semi crashed into the junior hockey team's bus was unobstructed and the stop sign where he should have yielded was clearly visible. But, for whatever reason, Sidhu missed it. Perhaps he was tired, or zoned out. Either way, it was a mistake — a horrific and deadly one — but one any one of us could have easily made.

On Tuesday, Sidhu pleaded guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm — a choice that will spare the Broncos families the anguish of a trial. And the plea was indeed very much a choice: Sidhu could have challenged the charges against him, thereby forcing the Crown to prove that his conduct constituted a "marked departure" from normal driving. The Supreme Court of Canada has established that a momentary lapse of attention alone is not enough to establish actus reus or mens rea (guilty act or mind) of the offence of dangerous driving.

There's a chance the Crown could have secured a conviction had Sidhu gone to trial, but from what we know of the details of the collision, it certainly would have been a challenge.

Sidhu faces a maximum sentence of 14 years and 10 years in prison, respectively, for each count of dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing bodily harm. And despite his recent show of apparent selflessness, no doubt many will want to see him locked up for a long time — he killed 16 people, after all, and destroyed dozens more lives. Accident or not, he was the one behind the wheel.

Watch The National's report from Sidhu's hearing

Nine months after the tragic crash, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu has pleaded guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. 5:42

But considering Sidhu has already taken ownership of his actions, it's tough to see what purpose an extended prison sentence would serve here. He's of low risk to reoffend ("reoffend" seems like the wrong word for this sort of accident), and there wouldn't be much of a deterrent effect for the public considering the mistake here is one that, theoretically, some of us could have already made on our way in to work today. 

In that sense, this case is markedly different from that of Marco Muzzo, who was recently denied parole after serving two years of a 10-year sentence for a drunk driving crash that killed three young children and their grandfather in Vaughan, Ont. Muzzo, like Sidhu, pleaded guilty to the charges against him — four counts of impaired driving causing death — but a conviction in Muzzo's case was near certain: he was speeding, blew through a stop sign and had a blood alcohol level almost three times the legal limit. 

If nothing else, Marco Muzzo's incarceration keeps him off the road. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

That's what distinguishes his case from Sidhu's. Muzzo made a choice: he got drunk and decided to get behind the wheel. It's not something that could just happen to any of us; responsible people leave their keys at home or make arrangements for alternate transportation. There are things he could have done differently and lessons others could learn from his actions. And if nothing else, his incarceration keeps him off the road, which is especially important considering Muzzo's lack of introspection, which we learned about during his parole hearing when he told the panel he thinks he would have to consume eight or nine drinks to consider himself impaired (he later clarified it would take that many to get him "wasted").

An extended prison sentence for Sidhu would serve no similar, tangible functions. It won't remind people to take better care on the road; the deaths of 16 people should have already done that. And the torment Sidhu will live with forever will absolutely be more of a punishment than whatever time he spends behind bars. But he may serve time regardless, and perhaps necessarily so, if for no other reason than to maintain the public's collective faith in the justice system. When something horrible happens, we want to see that someone is held responsible, even if that someone simply made a terrible mistake.

While some Broncos parents are still angry with Sidhu, which is absolutely natural, others have shown remarkable forgiveness toward the man who killed their children. Perhaps the rest of us ought to heed that lesson in grace and understanding. We've all made mistakes — even you, dear keyboard warrior, who has nothing to lose by admitting that now (and certainly not your freedom for up to 14 years). 

You forget because those mistakes — perhaps running a stop sign or daydreaming on your drive home — were made without catastrophic consequences, luckily. Hopefully that good fortune never runs out.


This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.

Clarifications

  • The document detailing events leading to the Humboldt Broncos' team bus crash is a preliminary statement of facts and has yet to be presented in court.
    Jan 10, 2019 10:13 AM ET

About the Author

Robyn Urback

Columnist

Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:

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