Indigenous truck drivers staged a pro-pipeline rally in the tiny community of Lac La Biche, Alta, Sunday as laid-off oil and gas workers struggle to make ends meet.
Sunday’s rally, about 200 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, was billed as the first Indigenous rally in support of pipelines.
Organized by the local Region One Aboriginal Business Association, more than 30 trucks made their way around Lac La Biche and through a couple of neighbouring communities, such as Plamondon, Alta.
Family and friends gathered in the Bold Center community hall, many holding signs reading: « I love Canada oil and gas. »
ROABA held the rally to highlight what it considers Alberta’s northern Indigenous communities’ support for pipelines and opposition to Bill C-69, federal legislation that aims to change the way energy projects are approved.
Shawn McDonald, president of ROABA, believes the legislation will delay projects and add to the unemployment.
He said the association is trying to « show support for Alberta families that are really hurting right now. »
« That’s our main objective, is just to show our support. »
Robert White, from the Kikino Metis Settlement south of Lac la Biche, was one of dozens participating in the convoy. He drives a truck for a company that supplies heavy equipment to the oil patch.
« At times, we can have up to 600 employees, » he said. « And right now, we probably got about 60, which is not fair. »
He wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to go to work.
And he’s one of the lucky ones. As a supervisor, he’s had to lay off workers in recent weeks.
Dozens of pipeline supporters joined a rally at the Lac La Biche community centre Sunday. (Hugo Levesque/CBC)
« It really affects our community as a whole, like our local businesses. »
White didn’t want to speculate as to why some First Nations communities, especially in B.C., tend to oppose pipelines.
« We have to get to work, that’s the bottom line. »
The federal government paid $4.5 billion dollars in taxpayer money to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline.
But the pipeline expansion project is stalled after a federal court order cancelled its approval, ruling that the government hadn’t consulted enough with Indigenous groups.
Another protest convoy is planned for this week, starting from Red Deer, Alt., and heading to Ottawa with a projected arrival date of Feb. 19.
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.
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.
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.
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
The truck driver who was hauling a trailer full of pigs bound for a Lower Mainland slaughterhouse said Friday’s accident that killed scores of swine happened in seconds.
Allan Kielstra said he was hauling 238 pigs from Taber, Alta., to Langley when another semi passed him near a curve in the road, sparking the 1 a.m. accident near Keremeos. Kielstra said 70 pigs died because of the crash.
“A semi passed me and I didn’t even see him coming by me. But it’s a double solid line and he forced me onto the shoulder,” said Kielstra, who was hauling a specialized pig trailer.
“When I caught the shoulder, my trailer pin broke and the trailer started flipping and caused me to go into the ditch. And then the trailer flipped into the ditch.”
“You don’t hardly remember,” he said. “All I remember is going all over the place and then being parked on the road. I drove about a quarter-mile up the road and realized my trailer was gone.”
Kielstra said when he returned to the trailer, he tried pulling out as many pigs as he could, and that a rancher helped move them to a pasture.
“There were only two or three of us there, so we worked as hard as we could,” he said, “and got them out as much as we could.”
“There were some that were laying here that were stressed. But the reason they were stressed was is because they got piled up there and were possibly out of oxygen for a while. So we did whatever we could to save as many as we could.
“They were very comfortable all day. When we got them out to the pasture, we brought hay for them, we brought feed for them and they were rooting around.”
According to Kielstra, of the 238 pigs, 60 died from suffocation while another 10 were put down.
“I worked from 1 o’clock in the morning until 7 o’clock last night,” said Kielstra. “I worked until 3 o’clock in the afternoon to get them out.”
The pigs were originally loaded in Alberta at 10 a.m. on Thursday. Kielstra said approximately 30 minutes after the accident, the RCMP were on the scene, and that two more recruits came out in the morning.
On Friday afternoon, the pigs were loaded onto another transport from Langley.
According to a brochure from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, only animals that are fit to handle the stress of transport may be loaded. For more on the CFIA and animal transport, click here, here and here.
A dramatic video posted online shows a City of Calgary sanding truck as it plows into three vehicles, just minutes after a family of three had been sitting inside one.
The crash was caught on home security video and happened around 1 a.m. Monday in the southeast Calgary community of Legacy.
A city spokesperson confirmed a sanding truck hit the parked vehicles, and that the driver is an employee of the city and was uninjured.
A home security camera captured the moment a City of Calgary sanding truck hit three parked cars on Dec. 31, 2018. 0:18
Calgary Police and the city are investigating.
Josh Capps said he was asleep when his daughter woke him up to tell him there had been an collision outside their home.
« I looked out her window and saw the whole thing. It looked like vehicles everywhere, » he said.
Capps’ Chevy Tahoe — the first to be hit — had been totalled, as well as his friend’s Jeep and a neighbour’s Honda Civic.
« It was just completely destroyed, like the whole front end was smashed all the way up to the windshield. »
‘Counting our blessings’
It wasn’t until he reviewed his home security footage that he realized just how close of a call the crash was.
Two friends and their one-year-old child had been sitting in the Jeep right behind Capps’ Tahoe. The video shows them in the vehicle just nine minutes before the crash, and Capps speculates it took them a few minutes to unload the baby and Christmas gifts from the car to come inside.
The driver of the sanding truck was stunned but unhurt, Josh Capps said. (Josh Capps)
« It’s quite miraculous … I mean, if they were to stop for gas or something, you never know, right? » he said. « The whole thing was basically counting our blessings that nothing bad really happened. »
Straschnitzki, 19, was one of 13 survivors April 6 when a team bus was hit by a semi-trailer at an intersection north of Tisdale, Sask. Sixteen people died.
Straschnitzki, who was paralyzed from the chest down in the accident, has been attending physio four times a week in Calgary.
His mother says he was returning to his home in Airdrie when the accident occurred.
WATCH: Saskatchewan introduces mandatory semi driver training after Humboldt Broncos tragedy
“His transport bus was involved in a collision. In and of itself, would’ve been traumatic to anyone. To Ryan, and, ultimately Tom and I (on the other side of his SOS call), it was devastating,” his mother Michelle Straschnitzki wrote on Facebook.
“The kind of rip-your-heart-out-of-your-chest-while-you’re-still-breathing kind.”
The accident occurred on an off-ramp entering Airdrie, just north of Calgary, last Monday, she said.
She said the impact from the vehicle was so jarring it threw him from his wheelchair, to the floor.
“More than that, it caused his severe PTSD to run to overtime. Transporting him back to April 6th. With this acute memory in his head, along with a million other thoughts, he called his Dad. Tom picked up on speaker phone,” Straschnitzki wrote.
“My mind headed into panic mode. In my defence, when your child is crying and apoplectic, with his mind on his teammates, and screaming `please live’ – Tom was the most helpful parent that night. And this wasn’t April 6th, this was November. My nightmare began again.”
WATCH: Safety report on intersection of Humboldt Broncos crash expected soon
Tom Straschnitzki says he was able to calm his son down and rushed to the accident scene to collect him. He said fortunately Ryan was none the worse for wear.
Michelle Straschnitzki, who has been lobbying for seat belts on team buses, said she hopes this latest accident will serve as a warning to motorists who aren’t paying attention.
“I don’t ever want to hear another call from any of our kids, like that one. Please, people, pay attention. Drive to the conditions. Follow the signals, signs, and notices. There is no prize for getting there first,” she wrote.
“Never make another family go through this absolute HELL. Please.”
A billboard convinced Tony Timmons to donate a kidney, and, in exchange, he found a friend.
Timmons drives trucks out of Airdrie, Alta. One day on his way to work, he spotted a giant sign with a plea: « Ryan Mclennan needs a living kidney donor, blood type O. »
« It just made me feel obligated, you know, because the guy’s really desperate, » Timmons told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.
On Wednesday, he goes under the knife. One of his two kidneys will be placed in Mclennan’s body, a life-saving transplant for the man in renal failure.
‘I got to do something’
Mclennan’s wife, Shakina Mclennan, bought 27 billboards, making their heart-wrenching situation hard to miss.
The unorthodox plea for donations made headlines last winter, and it got results. Mclennan received about 170 calls, with 50 applying to see if they were a match. The Kidney Foundation in Calgary also reported dozens of donation inquiries.
After Timmons spotted one of the advertisements, his wife showed him a news clip about the family. Mclennan’s own mother had donated a kidney to him 15 years ago but that one was now failing.
« She couldn’t donate, obviously, her last one and he never had no family members that could, » Timmons said. « So I just said I got to do something, someone’s got to do something. »
Ryan Mclennan’s family set up 27 billboards in Calgary to search for a living kidney donor. (James Young/CBC)
Miraculously, he was a match, which is no small feat. Others have been tested to see if they’d match with Mclennan with no luck.
Mclennan said he’s still surprised the billboards worked.
« You don’t believe it, » he said. « Your head is in the clouds and you just can’t believe that this day is going to come….
« It’s almost like you’re drowning and someone jumps in and saves you — and it takes sometimes a very, very, very special person to do that. »
New friends, a ‘huge bonus’
The « huge bonus, » Mclennan said, is he has gotten to know Timmons, which would be impossible with an anonymous donation.
The two couples are like family now, Lisa Timmons said. They had dinner together Sunday night to get mentally prepared for surgery this week.
From left to right: Ryan McLennan, Tony Timmons, Lisa Timmons and Shakina McLennan had dinner on Sunday ahead of the week’s big surgery. (Submitted by Lisa Timmons)
Lisa said she admires her husband, who very much doesn’t like to be centre of attention, for doing the selfless act out of kindness and not for publicity.
« There’s a reason why I married him, for one, because he’s kind-hearted, he’s generous and he puts other people first, » Timmons said.
Lisa Timmons says she knew her husband was kind when they married but she’s extremely proud of him for donating his kidney. (Lisa Timmons)
Mclennan said he’s looking forward to the transplant he expects will change his life « 100 per cent. »
« I’m getting a third chance. I mean, right now, I’m very restricted in so many of the things I can do, » he said. « I know what it’s like to have a transplant and I know what it’s like to change my life, so that’s why this one’s so important. »
Mclennan was a mechanic when he was first diagnosed with kidney failure in 2003. He then retrained as a teacher and now teaches shop at Father Lacombe High School.
Ryan Mclennan, who instructs in the mechanics and autobody program at Father Lacombe High School in Calgary, sits with his mother, Elaine Austin. The family posted appeals on a number of billboards searching for a living kidney donor for Mclennan. (Submitted by Shakina Mclennan)
After some recovery, Mclennan hopes to get back into the classroom. Timmons said he also expects to limit his time off work, although doctors have asked him to rest for three months.
He also says he’s not as nervous as perhaps he should be, choosing instead to put his trust in the heath-care system.
« I think it’ll be all right. I mean, things go on, made a new friend. That’s about it, » Timmons said with a laugh.
A fire caused serious damage to a home in northeast Calgary on Thursday night and a pickup truck could be seen inside the house, appearing as though it had driven into it.
As of just before midnight, police and fire officials had yet to comment on what happened but a Global News crew at the scene, in the area of 4 Avenue N.E. and Maidstone Drive N.E., said it appeared the truck smashed through the wall of the home.
Witnesses said the driver was a man and that he fled the scene. It was not clear if the truck crashed into the home before, during or after the fire.
Shortly before midnight, the blaze had been extinguished.
A large police presence surrounded the home and a police helicopter could be seen overhead.
It was not clear if anybody had been injured as a result of the fire or the crash.