Like so many other people across Canada, Chris Joseph watched the World Junior Championship and saw the Humboldt Broncos blanket behind Team Canada’s bench and he was touched. But it was another reminder. He saw last week that York University had held its annual Mark Cross Memorial Day and that made him smile. But again, it was another reminder. Then Kaleb Dahlgren announced that his memoir, a book entitled Crossroads that has a picture of him standing at the intersection of the Humboldt Broncos bus accident on the cover, is coming out in March. Of course Joseph is happy and proud of Dahlgren, but yet again another reminder.
Then Joseph learned last week that Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, the man who was driving the truck that slammed into the Broncos’ bus almost three years ago, killing his son, Jaxon, and 16 other people in the worst tragedy in Canadian sports history, had filed the paperwork to support his attempts to avoid being deported back to his native India when his finishes his prison sentence. Among that paperwork was a letter from Scott Thomas, whose son, Evan, was also killed in the crash. The letter supports Sidhu and expresses forgiveness and compassion for him. “I don’t have the energy for hatred,” Scott Thomas told TheHockeyNews.com last week.
Chris Joseph and his family just want there to stop being constant reminders. And one way of helping that happen is to continue to push to have Sidhu deported. So for that reason, and a number of others, that’s what he’s doing. It has put him and others in the Broncos family who feel that way on the other side of the spectrum from Thomas and those who share his opinion. But it doesn’t make one right or the other wrong. There are 29 families on this journey of recovery and not one of them is on a common path. The feelings for Sidhu from those left behind range from hatred to unconditional forgiveness and those feelings are all very real, and still very raw for some.
And Joseph’s feelings are not borne out of racism, a need for revenge or any kind of malice. In fact, he’s very concerned about coming across as bitter and angry. But he’s also a father who is still in a bad place almost three years after the accident. He grieves deeply for his son. Even happy events such as his daughter’s recent engagement are tinged with sadness. And maybe, just maybe, if Sidhu is no longer in Canada after he serves his sentence, the Joseph family might find a little more peace.
“As much as I can admire someone who finds that forgiveness, I personally don’t have it yet, don’t know if I’ll ever get it to be quite honest,” said Joseph, a former NHL defenseman who is now a firefighter in Edmonton. “Everyone’s forgiveness journey is their own journey. I just can’t understand why you cannot forgive while he’s on a plane back to India.”
Sidhu, who is in Canada as a permanent resident, was sentenced to eight years in prison in March, 2019 and is eligible to apply for parole in September of this year. Under Canadian law, permanent residents cannot remain in the country if they commit a crime for which sentence is more than six months, but the Canadian Border Services Agency can consider making an exception if it is the first offense and the person is unlikely to reoffend.
“I actually think it’s extremely selfish that he is trying to change the laws of Canada,” Joseph said. “If he were truly remorseful and he really cared about our family, I believe he would accept the deportation and allow us to pick up the pieces and move on with our lives. But him trying to stay in country is putting himself ahead of the 29 families. I see it as a selfish thing and I can see why because Canada is a really nice place to live. But it is selfish.”
Part of Joseph’s frustrations stems from the fact that he and the other families have been able to do little to affect change to what are viewed as lax safety laws in the trucking industry. He said the group feels shunned by Transport Canada after being told that trucking is a provincial issue, which means the battle is on 10 fronts instead of one. There have been some minor triumphs, but little headway has been made.
“Governments look at the numbers instead of the cost of lives, or they’re just not willing to rock the boat,” Joseph said. “We’ve been trying to clean up the industry, but it’s really ugly. There’s lots of corruption, there’s lots of poor training, a lack of oversight from government agencies. The status quo is what got us here and we cannot keep the status quo.”
Joseph worries about the precedent that would be set if Sidhu is allowed to stay. But mostly, he just wants to stop thinking about Sidhu. He doesn’t believe that having compassion and empathy for the man and supporting his deportation are necessarily mutually exclusive. He admits he’ll likely never get to where Scott Thomas is when it comes to forgiveness, but it’s not about that. For Joseph, it’s about trying to gain some measure of peace and ensuring that the laws that put Sidhu in prison and provide for his deportation serve as a deterrent.
“If we allow him to stay in the country and, heaven forbid, there’s another Humboldt Broncos out there, I could not look in the faces of the parents when they say, ‘Why did you allow him to stay in the country and create this precedent?’ ” Joseph said. “I have to stand up for what I believe in. My whole mission since I lost Jaxon is to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Jaxon is not coming back, the other 15 people are not coming back and the other 13 boys have a life sentence of pain and tragedy. I don’t want this to happen to anybody else again and I’ll fight for that until the day I die.”