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Unprecedented outpouring of grief at sentencing for truck driver in Humboldt Broncos bus crash

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MELFORT—Chris Joseph has seen the seasons change from summer to fall and now, to frigid mid-winter, at a memorial set up for his son and 15 others killed at the intersection in April when a semitruck ran through a stop sign and collided with the Humboldt Broncos team bus.

Something about the stillness of winter adds to its solemnity.

At the rural Saskatchewan intersection of Highway 35 and Highway 335, 16 green crosses stand emblazoned with the names of the people killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash on April 6, 2018.
At the rural Saskatchewan intersection of Highway 35 and Highway 335, 16 green crosses stand emblazoned with the names of the people killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash on April 6, 2018.  (Claire Theobald / StarMetro Edmonton)

The cluster of crosses sits by the side of the rural Saskatchewan intersection of Highway 35 and Highway 335, itself in the middle of four corners of open Canadian prairie, flat and featureless except for a small stand of trees.

Joseph, a former NHL player, has come to find a moment’s peace in the place where nine months earlier his son, Jaxon Joseph, was left lying lifeless in the snow. He points out the ways in which the memorial has grown each time he has visited: first came 16 simple white crosses, then 16 green hockey stick crosses were driven into the ground, and draped with Humboldt Broncos jerseys.

The green and yellow ribbons — the team’s colours — photographs and various trinkets, a cowboy hat, some plastic beaded necklaces, accumulated over time.

“The day you took my son Jaxon from me was the worst day of my life and will remain that way forever,” he said, recalling the horrors he and his family suffered when his son died in the crash.

“I never thought in my life I would be kissing my dead son’s eyelids, nose, cheeks and lips over and over again, as I knew it would be the last time I would feel my son’s skin under my lips. If I could have, I would have stayed with him, beside him until the moment his dead body couldn’t stand the warmth,” said Jaxon’s mother, Andrea Joseph, sobbing as she recalled desperately rubbing her son’s legs and holding him close, hoping her warmth would breathe new life into his still body.

Family and friends of the 16 people killed and 13 people injured spent three days recounting the trauma of the crash and the suffering they continue to endure because of truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu.

There were too many people to fit inside the local Melfort, Sask., courthouse, so 200 plastic chairs were set up in the Kerry Vickar Centre’s gymnasium to accommodate the weeklong hearing.

Both the Crown and defence involved in Sidhu’s sentencing said it was one of the most difficult and emotional hearings they had ever been a part of, with around 80 victim impact statements read aloud or filed privately with the court.

“Mr. Sidhu’s crime had wide-ranging and devastating consequences for the families and friends of everyone who was in the bus crash,” said Crown prosecutor Thomas Healey.

“My hockey stick remains outside of my door,” said defence lawyer Glen Luther.

Sidhu pleaded guilty to 16 charges of dangerous driving causing death and 13 charges of dangerous driving causing injury, taking full responsibility for causing the crash.

Rising from his seat to address the families Thursday, Sidhu turned to face them, heaving a heavy sigh before delivering an apology. “I cannot imagine what you are going through or what you have been through,” said Sidhu. “I have taken the most valuable things in your life.”

After he spoke, Sidhu sat back in his chair and cried.

But those who came to hear Sidhu offer an explanation left empty-handed.

“I can’t tell people what happened, he simply doesn’t know,” said defence lawyer Mark Brayford in his sentencing submissions.

Sidhu said he didn’t even know he had been in a crash until he crawled out the door of the overturned cab of his truck and heard the victims screaming.

According to the RCMP’s forensic collision reconstruction report, on April 6, the semi was hauling two trailers loaded with peat moss when it blew through a stop sign at the intersection of Highway 35 and Highway 335, near Armley, Sask., at around 5 p.m., just as the Humboldt Broncos team bus was approaching the intersection.

Sidhu drove past four signs and signals that should have warned him of the upcoming intersection that lined the highway nearly half a kilometre before the crash site.

“This wasn’t a rolling stop, this was more like a rocket,” said Healey.

The bus driver slammed on the brakes, skidding 24 metres, but it was too late. The bus hit the semi at nearly 100 km/h.

There was no way the bus could have avoided the crash.

The damage was catastrophic.

The bus was ripped into three pieces, the front third of the bus and the entire roof were torn from the twisted frame, the condition of the front of the bus described coldly as “nonsurvivable.”

Tanya LaBelle said images of the “dread-filled scene” replay vividly in their minds.

“The faces, the voices, the sounds, the vehicles, ambulances, helicopters,” Tanya, Xavier LaBelle’s mother, recalled through tears. “The panic, the agony, the horror.”

“Nothing can prepare a parent for the heart-wrenching carnage that was before me,” said his father, Paul LaBelle, who ran desperately down the highway toward the crash site before being stopped by an RCMP officer.

Families were redirected to local hospitals, hoping their child’s name would be on the list.

The mass of casualties overwhelmed the local hospital and funeral home.

In the confusion, the LaBelles were told their son hadn’t survived the crash while standing only 50 feet away from where their son lay screaming in anguish in a hospital bed.

When they were called to the funeral home with other families to identify their loved one among the dead, the LaBelles weren’t sure if it was grief preventing them from recognizing their son from the only bodies left unaccounted for.

Two days later, they would receive the call the other families had longed to hear — there had been a mistake, their son, Xavier was alive.

But any joy the LaBelles felt at learning their son was one of 13 survivors was tempered by the realization that another family, Parker Tobin’s — who had sat vigil at Xavier LaBelle’s bedside for two days believing he was their son — had inherited their loss.

Xavier LaBelle had survived the crash. Parker Tobin had not.

It was difficult for Parker Tobin’s father, Edward Tobin, to put his family’s loss into words.

“At times, the grief is overwhelming and you’re not sure how you are going to make it through the day,” he said. “The grief is often triggered by things you wouldn’t expect, like seeing young kids play at the local park. Those simple things that bring back his childhood memories. You smile for a moment as you remember a happier time, then collapse as you realize there will be no more memories.”

Humboldt Broncos assistant coach Chris Beaudry was called by the coroner to help identify the bodies, some disfigured beyond recognition.

Staff wouldn’t have time to stop working on the corpses while he viewed them, the coroner warned. Beaudry didn’t want to do it, but it was the only way he could help.

As he moved from gurney to gurney trying to recognize the faces of the young men he had once coached behind their injuries, flashes of recognition were chased with memories of who they were in life.

The sounds of bones being set, the zipping of body bags, skin being sewn, still haunt him.

“In my dreams, I would relive the funeral home scene over and over for months. I would wake up in cold sweats and couldn’t go back to sleep. The PTSD triggers were as bad as the nightmares,” Beaudry said.

Nine months later and they are still suffering.

“All of us families grieve every day, we will for the rest of our lives,” said Scott Thomas, father of Evan Thomas, who died in the crash.

The loved ones of those killed spoke of their unending grief, and family and friends of survivors spoke of their struggle to find a new normal as the futures they had planned now look drastically different. Dreams dashed, bodies broken, hope lost.

The rural Saskatchewan intersection where truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidu ran a stop sign and collided with the Humboldt Broncos team bus on April 6, 2018, as seen on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019.
The rural Saskatchewan intersection where truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidu ran a stop sign and collided with the Humboldt Broncos team bus on April 6, 2018, as seen on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019.  (Claire Theobald/StarMetro Edmonton)

At every brief intermission, those gathered in the gallery would offer each other support.

Warm hugs, dry tissues, handshakes and knowing smiles are the physical manifestations of the bond formed between these families who know each other’s pain all too well.

“The crash has forever tied us together,” said Bernadine Boulet, mother of Logan Boulet, 21, who died from his injuries after the collision.

After three days of heart-wrenching testimony, lawyers entered into their sentencing submissions trying to offer guidance to Justice Inez Cardinal in a case of dangerous driving unprecedented in its harm.

“We haven’t seen a case like this in Canada,” said Healey.

The maximum sentence available for Sidhu’s dangerous driving causing death charges is 14 years behind bars for each offence, and dangerous driving causing injury comes with a maximum sentence of 10 years.

While Sidhu pleaded guilty and has demonstrated genuine remorse, Healey argued that as a professional truck driver, Sidhu had been trained and should have been held to a higher standard of road safety.

“This wasn’t just an accident, this was a crime,” said Healey, recommending a sentence of 10 years in prison.

There were four signs leading up to the intersection that Sidhu, for reasons unknown, was completely oblivious to, Healey said. The intersection itself is marked with an oversized stop sign and a flashing light.

“How does someone miss all of those signs?” Healey said, emphasizing the egregiousness of Sidhu’s carelessness.

Sidhu’s defence argued that while the consequences of his actions were grave, they were a result of simple negligence and not deliberate recklessness, “barely over the line” between a tragic oversight and a criminal act, Luther said.

While they did not make their own suggestion for the length of a suitable sentence, Brayford said that many of those who described the pain and anguish caused to them by the crash also called for mercy in Sidhu’s sentencing.

“We’re not as simplistic as an eye for an eye,” said Brayford.

“I don’t hate you. When I look at you, I see a young man not much older than our son, Mark,” said Marilyn Cross, mother of Mark Cross, who did not survive the collision. “I grieve for the guilt you must carry for the rest of your days.”

Paul Jefferson, who was a billet father to both Parker Tobin, who died, and Tyler Smith, who survived, said his faith called him to forgive.

“His life should not be ruined by this mistake, that would make him the 30th victim of this tragedy,” he said.

Court has heard Jaskirat Singh Sidhu blew through a stop sign and into the path of the junior hockey team's bus in rural Saskatchewan last April.
Court has heard Jaskirat Singh Sidhu blew through a stop sign and into the path of the junior hockey team’s bus in rural Saskatchewan last April.  (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Other families called for a harsher punishment to deter unscrupulous truck drivers and transport companies from making the same mistakes.

“We need to fight for these boys, the 29 people who were on that bus. As a mom, when you can’t help your child, and you can’t protect them and hold them, the only way I can help is by fighting and sticking up for what is right. This country needs to crack down, we need to have stricter rules and stricter laws,” said Andrea Joseph, calling for Sidhu to serve the maximum sentence.

Judge Cardinal said it would take time for her to review all of the materials and victim impact statements before making her decision, and adjourned Sidhu’s sentencing until March 22.

Jennifer Quaid, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said the recommended sentence is “very harsh” and she suspects the actual sentence to be lower, in part because Sidhu pleaded guilty and expressed sincere remorse.

“I’m not sure that we can actually make him suffer more than he’s suffering now,” she said.

“He has done everything the criminal justice system wants an offender to do. He has recognized his responsibility, he has apologized, he has not tried to put up a fight.”

However, because there is no precedent for a case like this, Quaid said it is ultimately “anyone’s guess” what the judge will decide.

“We don’t have any template to follow for this particular kind of case, and I hope we never have another one.”

While conflicted over Sidhu’s jail term, those gathered agreed that no sentence would ever bring back that which has been lost.

What these families and survivors want more than anything is change.

Celeste Leray-Leicht, mother of deceased Jacob Leicht, spoke to media after the third day of proceedings holding Beaudry’s baby girl in her arms.

Her name is Lilly Brons Beaudry, named in honour of Dayna Brons, the Humboldt Broncos team trainer who died in the crash.

“I would like to give a message of hope and a message of change. I hope all the ministers of transportation across Canada are listening, and I hope you are talking,” she said, as Lilly tugged at the edge of her blanket.

“I hope you commit to Lilly and to everyone in Canada, across the nation, to make changes that make sense in every province and every territory,” said Leray-Leicht.

Lyle Brons, father of Dayna Brons, called for the trucking and charter bus industries to be federally regulated, and Leray-Leicht wanted to see training standards strengthened, anything to ensure no one else has to endure their suffering.

With files from Kevin Maimann

Claire Theobald is an Edmonton-based reporter who covers crime and the courts. Follow her on Twitter: @clairetheobald

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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