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‘Nobody wins in this:’ Truck driver in fatal Broncos crash gets 8-year sentence

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  • MELFORT, Sask. — A truck driver who caused the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison by a judge who said she believed his remorse was sincere, but she had to consider the serious consequences for so many people.

    Tears began to flow almost as soon as Judge Inez Cardinal began her decision and continued afterwards as families sombrely gathered outside court.

    Jaskirat Singh Sidhu of Calgary had pleaded guilty in January to 29 counts of dangerous driving for killing 16 people and injuring 13 others on the junior hockey team’s bus.

    The 30-year-old stood quietly and looked at the judge as he was sentenced. His punishment includes a 10-year driving ban. He also faces deportation to his home country of India after he serves time.

    “Families have been torn apart because of the loss,” Cardinal told court in Melfort, Sask. “They are prone to depression, anxiety or outbursts.”

    She also spoke of the survivors, who she suggested “are putting on a brave face in an attempt to be strong.”

    Marilyn Cross, whose son Mark was an assistant coach with the team, said seeing Sidhu go to prison for his death brings no comfort.

    “The sentence is neither here nor there for me. Our son isn’t coming back. Nobody wins in this,” she said.

    Raylene Herold and her husband, Russell, were among some family members wearing Broncos jerseys in court.

    “For us, our life doesn’t change. Adam doesn’t come back,” she said as she broke into tears. “We have a lifetime sentence.”

    The 16-year-old, the youngest Bronco on the bus, was to take over the family farm one day. His father said the upcoming one-year anniversary of the April 6 crash will be another painful reminder of what they’ve lost. 

    “We have emptiness, devastation … There’s an empty future there,” he said.

    Cardinal said the loss expressed in nearly 100 victim impact statements was staggering and she approached the sentence knowing “nothing can turn back the clock.”

    She went on to note that Sidhu barrelled through a stop sign as he drove a “huge, heavy, deadly” semi and the accident could have been avoided.

    “Mr. Sidhu had ample time to react … had he been paying attention,” she said.

    The Crown wanted Sidhu to be sent to prison for 10 years, while the defence said other cases suggested a range of 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 years.

    “We’re disappointed. We knew we were going to be disappointed,” said former NHL player Chris Joseph, whose son Jaxon was killed. “There’s no number that would have made me happy.”

    Mark Dahlgren, whose son Kaleb suffered a brain injury, said the sentence was “one more step in the process.”

    “We have an anniversary coming up that is going to be very, very tough. And I hope after that maybe we can get back to whatever our new normal is for everybody.”

    Sidhu said nothing as he was taken into custody, handcuffed and escorted by officers to a waiting SUV. His uncle from London, England, later gave a statement to reporters.

    “On behalf of my family, I would like to express my sincere sympathy to the 29 families,” Chanan Singh Sidhu read. “We also feel indebted to the families and the Canadian public at large for the support, sympathy and understanding they have shown … for my nephew and our families.”  

    Cardinal began her decision by reading aloud each victim’s name. She said the people on the bus that afternoon were “not defined just by their association with hockey.”

    “They were gifted athletes, community leaders, and team builders with hopes and dreams for the future … Some were dreaming of having a family, while others were already raising their families.”

    Cardinal said several factors, including his remorse and guilty plea, saved Sidhu from a maximum sentence of 14 years.

    But she pointed out he had missed several signs about the upcoming rural intersection and his lapse of attention had been prolonged.

    “This was not a momentary loss of attention. He had ample time to stop his unit. Mr. Sidhu wasn’t speeding but his speed was excessive.”

    Court previously had heard that Sidhu was going between 86 and 96 km/h when he passed four signs warning him about the crossroads before he came up to an oversized stop sign with a flashing light.

    Defence lawyer Mark Brayford had told court Sidhu was distracted by a flapping tarp on the back of his load of peat moss.

    Sidhu had been hired by a small Calgary trucking company three weeks before the crash. He spent two weeks with another trucker before heading out on his own for the first time just days before the crash.

    The Humboldt Broncos hockey team issued a statement soon after the sentence.

    “Having … the sentencing complete is a big step in the healing process for the survivors, grieving families, our organization and the community of Humboldt and surrounding area,” said president Jamie Brockman.

    — Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

     

    Bill Graveland and Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press



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    National

    Soldiers deploying to flood-prone areas as water levels rise in New Brunswick

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  • FREDERICTON — About 120 Canadian soldiers will soon be deployed in western New Brunswick to help residents threatened by rising floodwaters.

    The soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in southern New Brunswick have been tasked with helping fill sandbags and assisting with evacuating homes, if necessary.

    Lt.-Col. Sean French, commander of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, says the soldiers are also prepared to conduct “wellness checks” in various communities, using heavy vehicles that can move through deep water.

    Water levels in the Saint John River Basin are expected to rise significantly over the next few days, reaching or passing flood stage in several areas.

    With heavy rain expected to continue through the day, particularly in northern New Brunswick, residents of 15 communities have been warned to remain on high alert.

    Greg MacCallum, director of New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization, says the rising waters are sure to lead to road closures in several areas, particularly in the Fredericton area and communities farther south.

     

    The Canadian Press



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    Rain, wind equals no 4-20 blow out for Parliament Hill, but West Coast shines

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  • OTTAWA — It was a blow out, man, the kind that’s a total drag.

    Protesters dotted one half of Parliament Hill’s front lawn on a blustery, rainy Saturday at the climax the first 4-20 “Weed Day” demonstration since Canada legalized recreational marijuana.

    The turnout disappointed organizers who expected thousands more, but a festive atmosphere prevailed as the Peace Tower clock struck 4:20 p.m., sparking simultaneous smart phone photography and the lighting of joints, bongs and pipes.

    “The weather didn’t co-operate. It kind of shut us down,” Shawn Mac, a program director for 4-20 Ottawa, said moments earlier. “Coming and going, we’ve probably seen about 3,000, but right now, probably about a thousand.”

    A bout of blowing rain earlier in the afternoon meant the shutdown of a public address system, and a made for a sparse gathering of perhaps several dozen people, most huddled under plastic ponchos or tarps.

    Sara Bakir, 29, of Ottawa was one of early arrivals, dressed in a dark hoodie under a black umbrella.

    “It’s still nice to be out with a few like-minded people,” she said laughing, and casting her eyes at the empty and soaked brownish yellow lawn. 

    Organizers learned a tough lesson even before the rain started falling — new freedoms bring great bureaucracy.

    Mac said his group is encountering more red tape Saturday than on past April 20 protests.

    Organizers can’t use the steps to the now-closed Centre Block, which means spectators will need a front row position on the lawn to see or hear — something Mac calls a “huge letdown.” 

    “Hearing is already a problem so not being able to see is a crushing blow,” he said.

    Organizers have also been told to limit musical performers to just two, Mac said, adding that isn’t in the rules of how to hold a public event on the Hill. 

    New limits on auto access also meant organizers had to haul equipment and material by hand up to the lawn from Wellington Street, he added.

    “It’s frustrating because legalization was supposed to … make things easier and not more complicated,” he said.

    Lingering post-legalization concerns are sustaining a sense of protest among 4-20 event organizers across the country.

    They include concerns over the government’s decision to tax medicinal marijuana, slow progress on legislation to expedite pardons for people previously convicted of simple pot possession, and the fact that provincial and municipal governments are grappling with retail sales and land-use laws for growing pot.

    The federal government also has yet to legalize edible marijuana products and has six more months to set rules to do so. 

    “Everything about legalization has made things harder, which is the opposite of what is was supposed to be,” said Mac.

    Others were more upbeat and saw Saturday’s event as an inspiration to the world.

    “Again, the world is watching, and I’m very proud of Canada today and Canadians,” said Kelly Coulter, a cannabis policy adviser based in British Columbia.

    She said Canada is helping change global attitudes and policies as the first G7 nation to legalize pot, and she expected people from Germany and Britain to take part in Saturday’s festivities on the Hill.

    It was a far cry from Ottawa’s subdued festivities on the West Coast, as hoards of people crowded Vancouver’s Sunset Beach to mark the city’s 25th annual 4-20 event warmed by rays of glorious spring sunshine amid a low lying marijuana haze.

    A much smaller crowd gathered at the front lawn of British Columbia’s legislature in Victoria, but the mood was equally celebratory and defiant.

    “Today, in many ways, is bittersweet for us,” said long-time marijuana activist Ted Smith, who led the countdown chant to 4:20 p.m. in Victoria. “We’re happy it’s legalized, sure, but there’s a lot of things to protest.”

    Smith, in between puffs from a large joint, said the current marijuana rules are biased against entrepreneurs who want to sell their products in much the same way as craft brewers and winemakers.

    And a downpour didn’t dampen the festivities at Woodbine Park in Toronto’s east end, where revellers trampled through the muddy grass to the steady thrum of house music.

    Cannabis artisans sold their wares at tarp-covered stands, many expressing hope that they could one day emerge from the “grey market” to set up shop at brick-and-mortar storefronts.

    Justin Loizos, owner of the Just Compassion marijuana dispensary in Toronto, said the mood Saturday was more celebratory than in past 4-20 gatherings, which felt more like protests.

    The current regime may not be the “legalization people asked for,” Loizos said, but the cannabis community should take heart in just how far Canada has come.

    “I see a lot of people complaining, whatever — don’t,” he said. “We’re just going to celebrate here and enjoy the day.”

    — with files from Adina Bresge and Dirk Meissner.

    Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press




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