To forgive or to punish? Humboldt Broncos' families express range of emotions before sentencing

Families of victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash expressed a wide range of opinions on how the semi driver involved should be sentenced.

Some called for forgiveness, while others wanted Jaskirat Singh Sidhu to spend as many years as possible in prison.

"I'm sure the weight of the world is on him," Mark Dahlgren, whose son Kaleb was injured in the crash, told CBC News Thursday.

Sidhu is to be sentenced in Melfort, Sask.,on Friday.

UPDATE: Singh was sentenced to eight years in prison. Read more here

It has been nearly a year since Sidhu failed to stop at an intersection, killing 16 people and injuring 13 on the bus carrying the Broncos junior hockey team. He pleaded guilty to 29 counts of dangerous driving.

In January, Judge Inez Cardinal heard emotional victim impact statements from dozens of family members and friends. Some parents told Sidhu they forgive him. Others said they could not.

Susan Ormiston/CBC

Sidhu also spoke directly to the families in court.

"I take full responsibility for what has happened. It happened because of my lack of experience," Sidhu said in January.

"I can't imagine what you are going through, what you've been through. I have taken the most valuable things of your life. I will be so, so, so, so, so sorry from this day."

'I'm expecting disappointment'

Dahlgren planned to make the drive late Thursday to Melfort from his home in Saskatoon. He said there should be consequences, but he doesn't see the point of a lengthy jail term.

"It's not going to change what happened on that day. I'm sure that he feels the weight of what he did every day. That itself is a life sentence."

Others disagree.

"I know the judge has a tough job ... but we want to see a sentence that will send a message and make change," Chris Joseph, whose son Jaxon was killed in the crash, told CBC News on Thursday.

"Just because somebody feels bad doesn't mean they should get a lighter sentence. They still did the act. We feel they should serve the time."

Submitted photo

Crown prosecutor Thomas Healey recommended a 10-year prison sentence.

One of Sidhu's lawyers, Mark Brayford, cited cases with sentences of 18 months to four years, but didn't make an explicit recommendation. He said Sidhu is ready to accept whatever sentence the court imposes.

Joseph said he and his wife aren't hopeful.

"Honestly, I'm expecting disappointment. Take that for whatever it is, but no, I don't think he's going to get the maximum," he said.

'2 broken men'

Scott Thomas and his family won't be at the sentencing. They had a trip planned long before they knew about this date, and, after some debate, decided not to cancel it.

"The only reason that we would like to be there would be to support the other families," he said.

Thomas said they'll need some private time to gather strength for the first anniversary of the crash April 6.

"We knew this couple weeks heading up to the accident was going to be tough. And it's proving to be that way for sure."

Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press

Thomas said he feels he got some closure in January, when he met Sidhu face to face.

He won't say what the two talked about, but describes it as the "most exhilarating, confusing and powerful" 15 minutes of his life.

"It was a meeting of two broken men. He's broken. I'm broken. I'll never be the same. He'll never be the same. And it was something I'm so thankful, that I had that opportunity," he said, adding he sees Sidhu as collateral damage.

"He has to go to jail. I understand that. The length of the sentence to me is irrelevant when Judge Cardinal says whatever she's going to say tomorrow. She's a pretty learned woman and well respected, so whatever she comes up with I'm pretty sure is going to be a pretty reasonable conclusion."

Changes to intersection made

The Thomas family moved to a new house in February as a way to start fresh, but they brought Evan with them.

There's a hockey stick outside their front door. The garage walls are lined with his jerseys. A portrait of Evan sits in a chair at the head of the table.

His first and last skates are on the window sill, beside his hockey bag and gloves. His ashes rest in an urn in the master bedroom, and Thomas has four tattoos on his arms, including Evan's grad photo and his handprint.

"When my family, my dad, my brothers, whenever we get together, we don't shake hands. They all put their hand right here and shake his hand first," he says, rubbing his forearm gently.

"He's with me wherever I go."

Because of the April 6 crash, the Saskatchewan government has promised to make several changes to the intersection where the crash occurred, from rumble strips to better signage. It also pledged millions for improvements at other intersections.

At the time of the crash, training for Canada's 300,000 semi truck drivers had been optional everywhere except Ontario.

Broncos parents, families of other victims, academics, and drivers themselves petitioned and pushed for change. Training became mandatory in Saskatchewan last week, and will become mandatory across Canada in 2020.