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The Saskatchewan government’s response to Humboldt Broncos crash shows lack of initiative towards safety

Jaskirat Sidhu, the driver of the truck that the Humboldt Broncos’ bus crashed into, is not the only culprit.

Imagine driving down a wide, empty highway. Beside you on one side are fields that go as far as the eye can see, stretching into the horizon until they blend seamlessly. On the other, some tall trees. You think they’re fir. If you roll the window down you could probably smell them; the breeze would brush across your face as you zoomed down the straight road. Now you’re approaching an intersection with a stop sign. Traffic on the other road has the right of way, but you see no one around so you keep driving, expecting there to be a clear path. Only it isn’t. Everything that happens next is a blur. You’ve rolled into a ditch, smoke fills the car. The kids in the backseat are screaming and crying. You’re trying to get yourself, as well as everyone else, out before it’s too late. The car bursts into flames and then you feel nothing.

This is what happened to a family of six in 1997. They were killed at an intersection between Highways 35 and 335 after colliding with a semi. There were three young girls involved in this accident; they were only four, three, and one month old. Now, six white crosses stand at that intersection to commemorate them.

Then, 21 years later, it happened again.

It happened at that exact same intersection in that exact same manner. This time, even more lives were lost: ten hockey players, ages 16-21, who played for the beloved Humboldt Broncos, along with six adults. Another thirteen people were injured, some severely, like Kaleb Dahlgren who “suffered a fractured skull, a puncture wound in his head, a brain injury, two broken vertebrae in his neck and four others in his back”, as reported by Global News. Doctors expect it will take up to two years for his brain to recover fully.

This horrifying crash garnered national attention, yet the eerily similar 1997 crash was barely touched upon, despite the fact that hardly any action was taken to make that intersection safer in the years between the two accidents. A signal light was added above the stop sign after the aforementioned 1997 crash, but it is small and indistinguishable in poor weather conditions, such as in the snow or blinding sun. There is aerial footage from the site of the two crashes that reveals that their surroundings could have been an issue regarding the cause of both accidents. At the intersection where these two roads meet, a number of tall trees limit visibility from both sides.

I’m sure anyone who regularly drives can relate to this problem: you approach an intersection but cannot clearly see if your way is clear or not. All you can do is edge forward bit by bit and hope that when you do decide to turn or go that another car doesn’t fly out of nowhere and hit you.

Obviously, a signal light is not sufficient enough to prevent this sort of accident from happening. The government should have done more the first time around. For the price of increased safety, installing traffic lights, a roundabout, or an interchange system should not be a grievance to taxpayers, especially in the aftermath of the Humboldt accident.

Image: Google Maps

HB crash site
Image: The Canadian Press via The Globe and Mail

Now–six months after the Humboldt Broncos crash–the driver of the truck, Jaskirat Sidhu, is facing 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily injury according to CBC.

While this was obviously a wake-up call for everyone that some action needs to be taken, putting Sidhu solely in the line of fire is not fair. Although I understand the families of the Humboldt Broncos players’ need justice for their sons, punishing this man is not the right way to go because it places sole blame on him when, in reality, there are various other factors involved in the crash. By focusing on charging him, we are disregarding the mistakes that the government has made. We still do not know if the intersection in question has been made any safer after the Humboldt Broncos crash. In July, there was talk about setting up a permanent memorial site but no word on any improvements to the infrastructure other than a statement from Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe saying that the Ministry of Highways and SGI are working “on improving road safety ‘swiftly’”. According to Moe, they have to wait for these recommendations to come. Then, the province can look at them “and…make…decisions at that point in time.” Seeing as this statement was made right after the incident and months have passed since, this does not sound promising.

Dealing with grief is complex and messy. Understandably, locking Sidhu up for years could provide people with some closure; however, I implore people to consider what we are saying by condemning this man. Is this really all about seeking justice or is there an underlying motive of revenge? Jaskirat Sidhu should not be the scapegoat of this mess simply because he was the driver. Law enforcement may have felt pressured into taking heftier legal action in order to appease the majority of people speaking out, given the high public profile of this tragedy. Still, we can acknowledge that his mistake had fatal consequences and punish him rightly; this was an accident, after all.

One thing that will likely come up in trial is how Sidhu was driving, because so far reports only say that he “failed to yield.” It remains to be seen what factors might contribute to his culpability. He is being charged 16 times with dangerous driving causing death. Just one of these charges has a maximum sentence of 14 years. If he is found guilty on all 16 counts, it will be up to the judge to decide whether or not he ever walks free again.

In my eyes, the right punishment would be a lighter sentence. One important consideration is that Jaskirat was not drunk or high when the crash occurred; yet because this incident involved young adults and received so much national attention, it feels as if this fact has been overlooked. He simply made an error in judgement. Hopefully, this will be taken into consideration during trial.

At the end of the day, we can and should demand better. Let us hope that, this time, the Saskatchewan government has learned from such an enormous tragedy.

Cover Image: Unsplash/Samuele Piccarini

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