MELFORT, Sask.—The father of a player killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash says he thinks meeting face-to-face with the truck driver who caused the collision was a powerful moment in both of their lives.
Scott Thomas, whose son Evan died in the April 6 crash, said both he and Jakirat Singh Sidhu cried when the two met privately at Sidhu’s sentencing hearing this week.
“It was a very powerful, very emotional 15 minutes,” said Thomas. “There were lots of tears on both our parts.
“He said exactly what he said in court … ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.'”
Thomas was sitting in court in Melfort, Sask., on Jan. 30 when Sidhu’s brother tapped him on the knee and asked if Thomas would meet with their family after the hearing ended for the day.
“We went into a small room in the back,” Thomas told The Canadian Press in an interview on Jan. 31.
Thomas had frequently said he would like to meet with the truck driver.
He said Sidhu asked him how he could make it right for his family.
“I said, ‘So far, you’ve done everything that’s in your power,'” Thomas recalled. “He pled guilty, he took away the possibility of a long, drawn-out trial. He ended the proceedings in a pretty short and quick and efficient manner and definitely saved our families a lot of grief going forward.
“In his words, he can’t do anything to make it better, but he can stop proceedings that make it worse. That’s what he did. He’s already taken steps in that direction.”
Thomas said he accepted Sidhu’s apology.
“Absolutely,” said Thomas. “It was a powerful moment in both of our lives, I think. It’s what I had asked for.”
Ninety victim impact statements were submitted from family members over three days. They cried as they spoke of their unending grief for those who died and their frustration for those forever scarred. Some said they can forgive Sidhu, while others said they are too angry.
Crown prosecutor Thomas Healey told court that he admired the ability to forgive, but that actions must have consequences. He said that while there has been no case like it before in Canada, a sentence of 10 years with a 10-year driving prohibition would be appropriate.
The defence made no specific sentence recommendation but cited other dangerous driving penalties stretching from 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 years behind bars.
Thomas said he wouldn’t want to be in the judge’s position of having to determine Sidhu’s sentence.
“There’s definitely some parts of our conversation I am still not talking about, but the range of human tragedy in this is unbelievable,” said Thomas. “Any time I think I can’t get any deeper into this, something happens to continually break my heart.”
Sitting through the victim impact statements was sometimes harder than the days after the crash, he said.
“A couple of Mr. Sidhu’s family members were in the meeting with us and you could see the pain in their faces. So many families on so many levels.
“From the 29 people on the bus to the billet families to the first responders who were there. There’s thousands and thousands of people who were impacted by this and every one of them has a unique story. It’s unbelievable.”
Thomas said his strongest feelings in the case are reserved for a system that allowed Sidhu on the road with little experience and even less training.
“If I harbour long lasting hard feelings toward anybody it’s toward the company that employed him … the trucking industry that allowed this to happen and the governments that allowed a man like him to be behind the wheel,” Thomas said.
“I have a horrible feeling there are hundreds of others who are trained just as poorly out on the road right now. He thought he was just doing his job.”
Provincial court Judge Inez Cardinal said she will hand down her sentence March 22.
“However this happens, there’s no winners here,” said Thomas.
“There’s going to be losers. No matter how that decision comes down, a whole bunch more people are going to lose.”