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Factors judge considered in sentencing of truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash

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  • The truck driver who caused the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison for 29 counts of dangerous driving causing death or bodily harm. Court heard the inexperienced trucker blew through a stop sign and into the path of the junior hockey team’s bus at a rural Saskatchewan intersection last April. Sixteen people were killed and 13 injured.

    In her ruling, Judge Inez Cardinal said there have been no other cases before the courts in Canada like this one. She cited several considerations she made in her decision.

    Mitigating factors:

    Sidhu entered early guilty pleas to all charges.

    He apologized in court to the victims and their families. Cardinal said she believes his remorse is sincere.

    Although not physically injured, he will suffer psychologically.

    He is 30 years old with no previous criminal history and a clean driving record.

    Alcohol or drugs were not involved.

    — Sidhu had not been using his cellphone while driving at any point before the collision.

    He faces deportation after his sentence.

    Aggravating factors:

    Sidhu was driving a large commercial vehicle and missed five highway signs, including a large stop sign with a flashing light.

    He had ample time to stop but did not brake, reduce his speed or take evasive action.

    His actions killed 16 innocent people and caused life-altering injuries to 13 other innocent people.

    The devastating impact of the crash and its aftermath on families, friends and survivors cannot be measured.

    The injured face lifelong challenges as a result of physical and psychological injuries.

    “The impact of this catastrophe will reverberate across Canada for years to come,” said Cardinal.

    The Canadian Press


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    Witnesses still struggling one year after deadly Yonge Street van attack

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  • TORONTO — The survivor guilt settled in moments after he saw all the bodies. Later came the fear of walking Yonge Street again.

    He grew hyper-aware of sounds and people around him, looking for anything out of place. And driving his company’s white van became a struggle.

    “For the longest time I was worried about my brakes,” said Dion Fitzgerald. “If I saw someone crossing at a crosswalk, I would brake like a block away.”

    The 43-year-old father of six was one of many Torontonians whose lives were changed forever that sunny afternoon on April 23, 2018.

    It was 1:27 p.m. when Fitzgerald signed out of Eva’s Satellite, where he worked with about 30 troubled teens and young adults. He was walking down Yonge Street in north Toronto to get lunch when he saw the first body.

    He immediately worried that it was one of the young people he worked with, but as he got closer Fitzgerald realized it was an older man on the ground, one he didn’t recognize.

    “He was already gone,” he said.

    Soon, police arrived at the scene and witnesses described seeing the man get hit by a white Ryder van, which also struck and killed several others.

    “I need to check on my 30 young people, to see if they were hurt,” Fitzgerald recalls thinking, as most of them were without parents.

    As he continued to search for familiar faces, Fitzgerald came across body after body — some of them dead, some of them grievously injured.

    “There was a lot of blood. One woman’s legs were mangled. I had never seen flesh torn apart like that,” he said in a recent interview, choking up. “At this point for me, I’m really seeing a lot of death, a lot of people who were going about their day and unnecessarily died or were injured.”

    As Fitzgerald would later hear on the news, 10 people had been killed in the van attack, and 16 others wounded. Alek Minassian, now 26, was charged in the attack and faces a lengthy murder trial that is scheduled for next year.

    It was only later, once Fitzgerald was back at the shelter and scouring the news for information on the incident, that the guilt settled in. He learned of other witnesses who stayed with the injured, saying they didn’t want them to be alone.

    “What really hit me was I didn’t stay with anybody,” Fitzgerald said. “I kept moving.”

    In the weeks and months that followed, he questioned his actions. He tried to process his emotions through painting, but found he couldn’t finish his piece.

    “It was too difficult,” he said.

    Exposure to a traumatic event can affect people over the short term, disrupting their sleep or causing them to avoid certain areas, said Francoise Mathieu, a psychotherapist in Kingston, Ont., who specializes in secondary trauma.

    It can be particularly difficult when the event is in the spotlight because that brings daily reminders, Mathieu said.

    And when the effects are intense and last longer than a month, that person may meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

    While research on secondary trauma began in the late 90s, it has taken a long time for the phenomenon to be widely recognized, she said. The fifth and most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which defines and classifies mental disorders, was the first to include secondary trauma, she said.

    “It used to be that in order to develop PTSD you had to have experienced the trauma yourself but we’re now recognizing that that’s not always the case,” she said.

    The first anniversary of a loss or disaster is particularly meaningful, but can also cause certain feelings to resurface in survivors, witnesses and others who are struggling, Mathieu said.

    For them, it may be better to honour the milestone without re-exposing themselves to media about the incident, she said. Support systems are also important in helping people deal with trauma, she said.

    Among those who have begun researching the nascent field of secondary trauma is one of the witnesses of last year’s attack.

    Tiffany Jefkins was out for a picnic with her 10-month-old daughter and two others at Mel Lastman Square when she heard a loud bang coming from Yonge Street. She saw a white van strike four pedestrians.

    She strapped her daughter into the stroller, put her friend in charge and ran for the street to put her first-aid training to use.

    The first wounded person she saw was bleeding profusely from the abdomen but someone else was already stanching the flow, so Jefkins turned her attention to another injured person. That woman had no pulse and wasn’t breathing, so Jefkins started administering CPR.

    She then asked someone else to take over and went to check on the others, instructing stunned bystanders to lend a hand as she carried on. Three of the people she helped died, and Jefkins said she doesn’t know what happened to the fourth.

    Now Jefkins, who is doing her doctoral research at the University of Toronto on secondary trauma, says she’ll interview those who’ve witnessed traumatic events, from mass casualty events to cardiac arrests, to see how they are doing and to identify gaps in care.

    “How can you ask these people to help if they’re going to come away with potential post-traumatic stress-like symptoms?” Jefkins said. “If we know what happened to them, we can give them appropriate help.”

    Shortly after the attack, a counsellor visited the youth shelter where Fitzgerald worked to help staff and the community process what had happened.

    The counsellor told Fitzgerald he had done his job that day in trying to care for his group — but Fitzgerald said it took a long time for him to believe that. Fitzgerald also spoke to his doctor and a mentor, which helped, he said. He’s open to seeing a professional to discuss his mental health, thinking there could be some symptoms of PTSD.

    It took him a week before he could set foot on Yonge Street again. His first stop: the small memorial for the man he had seen on the ground, the first victim he’d encountered.

    In green marker on a nearby pole he read the words: “Here died the greatest man to ever walk the earth. I love you grandpa.”

    That got to Fitzgerald, being a new grandfather. Yet returning to Yonge Street helped him in his healing process.

    Now he makes a point to walk that stretch regularly, he said.

    “There’s some guilt still lurking, but I do know I was doing my job,” Fitzgerald said. “Nobody else in that mess at that time would have been looking for those young people. It was me that had to do that to ensure they were safe.”

    — With files from Paola Loriggio

    Liam Casey, The Canadian Press


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    Global Affairs warns Canadians in Sri Lanka there could be more attacks

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  • TORONTO — A spokesman for an organization representing Sri Lankan-Canadians says he has “no answers” in the wake of co-ordinated bomb attacks in his homeland that killed at least 207 people and injured 450 more.

    Riyaz Rauf, vice-president of the Canada Sri Lankan Association of Toronto, says he found out about the bombings via text messages from friends just after midnight.

    When he turned on the TV to watch the news, he says he was appalled by the “horrendous” images he saw. In a phone interview with The Canadian Press on Sunday morning, Rauf described the attacks as a “loss of humanity.”

    The federal government warned Canadians in Sri Lanka to limit their movements and obey local authorities, saying the situation in the country remains “volatile” and more attacks are possible. It added that the High Commission of Canada to Sri Lanka in the capital Colombo would be closed on Monday due to the security situation.

    It’s not clear if any Canadians were among the victims of the blasts, whose targets included hotels and a church frequented by tourists. Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry said the bodies of at least 27 foreigners were recovered, and the dead included people from Britain, the U.S., India, Portugal and Turkey. China’s Communist Party newspaper said two Chinese were killed.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined other world leaders in expressing sorrow and shock at the attacks, while condemning the targeting of worshippers on Easter Sunday.

    “Absolutely horrific news from Sri Lanka. Canada strongly condemns the heinous attacks on Christians at churches and hotels. Our hearts and thoughts are with the families and loved ones of those killed and all those injured,” Trudeau wrote in a tweet Sunday morning.

    Sri Lanka’s defence minister described the bombings as a terrorist attack by religious extremists and said seven suspects had been arrested, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility. He said most of the blasts were believed to have been suicide attacks.

    Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the violence could trigger instability in Sri Lanka, a country of about 21 million people, and he vowed the government will “vest all necessary powers with the defence forces” to take action against those responsible. The government imposed a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

    The eight explosions represent the deadliest violence in the South Asian island country since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago.

    Rauf, who moved to Canada nine years ago after graduating from university in Sri Lanka, said he’s at a loss to explain the reasons behind the violence — but he’s confident his homeland will persevere.

    “Sri Lanka as a nation has come through the worst period that it could ever come out of. We had a civil war for 25 years,” he said.

    “We are a bunch of resilient people who can overcome adversity.”

    Canada is home to roughly 150,000 people of Sri Lankan or mixed Sri Lankan descent, most of them in Ontario, according to 2016 figures from Statistics Canada.

     — with files from The Associated Press

    Adam Burns, The Canadian Press


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