Faye Arcand is a freelance writer living in the South Okanagan.

Column: Auntie says… compassion or vengeance?

What level of punishment satisfies?

Do you know who Jaskirat Singh Sidhu is? He’s a permanent resident of Canada, lives in Calgary, he’s a newlywed of one year, and he was the driver of the semi-trailer truck that ran the stop sign and crashed into the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team.

The accident happened on April 6, 2018. The entire nation paused to mourn the tragic loss of life and grieve along with the families. The senseless tragedy gripped the imaginations of everyone as the news reported on the accident and the criminal trial that quickly followed.

Sidhu had failed to heed the warnings, including a flashing stop sign, of an upcoming highway intersection. There was no alcohol or drug impairment found and there was no criminal intent to do harm. Mr. Sidhu testified that he was distracted by a flapping tarp on his vehicle and glancing away from the road for those few seconds was a mitigating factor in the accident.

He was charged with 29 counts of dangerous driving: 16 causing death and 13 causing bodily injury. He accepted full responsibility and to me, it appears evident (through his body language and his last words of apology in court), that Sidhu fully bears the weight of his own guilt and responsibility.

So now what?

The last accident victim was recently released from the hospital and many of the survivors are struggling to cope and move forward. The fact is that life—for all involved—will never be the same.

As a mom of a young man and the auntie and friend to many young people, I find it almost impossible to let my brain actually think of the “what ifs.” What if it were my kid in that accident? What if my kid survived and was paralyzed or brain damaged? What if I never got to see a special young person grow up and reach their potential? The answers take me down a path of what would be dark days of anger, grief, and passionate indignation.

Then I ask myself: what if I were the truck driver that hit the bus? How would I feel? What would I do? Would any amount of apology or guilt ever be enough? How would I go on with my life?

There’s an old saying I’d like you to keep in mind: There but for the grace of God go I. Defined simply, it means that you recognize that other peoples’ catastrophes or bad fortunes could easily happen to you if it weren’t for luck or divine intervention.

Think about it. Have you ever been on a long drive, singing along with the tunes or listening to an audiobook when you suddenly arrive at your destination? You’ve been zoned out for hours just going through the motions that you’ve done a thousand times. Would you have been alert to problems on the road? Who knows? The thing is it only takes a second and this time you were lucky and arrived safely—but next time?

Have you ever been doing something while you’re driving—placing your coffee back in the cup holder, lighting a cigarette, adjusting the radio, glancing at your cell phone, setting the a/c, whatever—and then returned your attention to the road only to see that the car in front of you is stopped or heaven forbid, a kid is crossing the street? You look up just in time to slam on the brakes and react to avoid tragedy. The outcome could easily have been very different. You were lucky.

I wonder what Mr. Sidhu thought when his attention came back to the road and he saw a bus in his immediate path. Panic? Fear? Shock? Think about it.

And, if you’re a new teen driver—inexperience on the road and not knowing how to react in an unforeseen situation can put you, and others, in harm’s way. You must be vigilant to avoid accidents. Remember, it only takes a second of distraction.

Mr. Sidhu admits he was distracted when he was driving. And, we know his training (and the requirements for licensing) was woefully inadequate. Should he go to jail for several years? Should he be deported? What does justice look like in this case? Are the recommendations for seatbelts on buses and better driver training enough?

I don’t think jail time or deportation serves anyone, including the survivors and their families. Perhaps they’d disagree. Again, I try to put myself in their shoes and I hope I’d choose compassion over vengeance.

It was a tragic accident. We’d all go back and change it if we could.

What we do need to do is learn from this and know that it can happen anytime, to anyone. It just takes a few seconds of inattentiveness to spell disaster. Remember that the next time you reach for your cell phone or try to uses maps while driving because one day instead of you reading about someone else, it’ll be us reading about you.

Jaskirat Singh Sidhu is set to be sentenced on March 22, 2019.

Faye Arcand is a freelance writer living in the South Okanagan. She can be reached at faye.arcand@icloud.com or www.fayeearcand.com.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

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