Sarah Leamon: Guilty plea in Humboldt bus crash spares families pain of enduring criminal trial

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      It was a tragedy that rocked the nation, and now the semitruck driver responsible for last year's Humboldt Broncos bus crash has pled guilty

      On January 8, 2019, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu was convicted on 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm in connection with the horrific accident that claimed the lives of so many young men, one woman, and fundamentally altered countless others forever. 

      It is safe to say that Sidhu, who was fortunate to walk away from the scene more or less unscathed, will not be fortunate enough to walk away from a lengthy prison sentence. A single indictable count of dangerous driving causing death carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment, while dangerous driving causing bodily harm can land a person behind bars for a decade. 

      While it is impossible to say with any precision how long of a sentence the court will ultimately hand down in this extraordinary case, it is likely that Sidhu will face a substantial period of incarceration. 

      The serious jeopardy facing the 29-year-old is one factor that caused many defence lawyers—including myself—to sit and ponder as to why he may have elected to enter guilty pleas so expediently. After all, more often than not, people facing serious, punitive consequences wish to exasperate all legal options before facing the music—in the event that they even have to. 

      This is particularly so in a society that seems to reward glossing over potentially detrimental factsminimizing poor behaviour, and avoiding responsibility for wrongdoing altogether

      But Sidhu has set himself apart from the standard of what we have all sadly come to expect by doing something unexpected and out of the ordinary—namely, by assuming responsibility and pleading guilty. 

      This radical act of responsibility has led some lawyers and commentators to conclude that the evidence against Sidhu must have been overwhelming. They have imagined that the certainty of a conviction could be the only thing that would have motivated such a young man to take such a detrimental course of action. 

      The nature of the charges faced by Sidhu are one factor that contributed to such speculation. After all, dangerous driving allegations are sometimes quite difficult for Crown to prove at trial. 

      One of the reasons for this is that, in order to secure a conviction, the Crown has to show that the accused person meant to conduct themselves in the dangerous manner in which they did. 

      In other words, the court must be satisfied not only that there was dangerous driving behaviour that substantially departed from that of a reasonable driver, but also that the dangerous driving behaviour was accompanied by an intention or knowledge of such wrongdoing.

      This must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and often involves adducing evidence about the driver's state of mind at the time of driving. Needless to say, it can be a challenging task at best.

      At this time, the evidence against Sidhu is largely unknown. No agreed statement of facts has been released as of yet. 

      So, while we may speculate on what the evidence is, and some forensic accounts have been made available, there is no way of knowing what Sidhu was up against or what potential defences he could have mounted at trial. 

      For his part, Sidhu’s lawyer has issued a public statement on his client’s behalf. This has allowed us some insight into his clients’ mindset. 

      He has said that Sidhu wished to enter an early guilty plea from the start and that he did not contemplate proceeding to trial. 

      He did this for one reason and one reason only: to avoid any further pain for the victims and their loved ones, which could only occur by assuming responsibility for his actions. 

      In this way, Sidhu’s plea represents a powerful expression of his remorse. It demonstrates a profound and meaningful degree of self-reflection and accountability, and it should serve as a lesson to all of us.  

      So, while it is difficult to find any light in a tragedy so dark, Sidhu’s plea has created a space to discuss the bravery in assuming responsibility, in acknowledging wrongdoing, and in readily accepting consequences without hesitation in order to allow for forgiveness, healing, and growth.

      Sentencing is set to take place on January 28, 2019.