Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

REGINA — A former truck driver who caused the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash has submitted paperwork with reasons why he should not be sent back to India when he gets out of prison.

Jaskirat Singh Sidhu is now waiting for the Canada Border Services Agency to write a report that will recommend whether he be allowed to stay in his adopted country or be deported.

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A grieving father of one of the hockey players killed will be waiting, too. Scott Thomas said he aches every day for his 18-year-old son, Evan, but submitted a letter in support of Sidhu.

"I know for a fact that he’ll never drive a semi again. I know for a fact that if he could take back what happened that day he would in a heartbeat. He would trade places with any one of those boys," said Thomas.

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm in the April 2018 collision that killed 16 people and injured 13.

Court was told that Sidhu, a newly married permanent resident, had missed a stop sign at a rural Saskatchewan intersection and driven into the path of the Broncos bus carrying players and staff to a junior hockey league playoff game.

The lawyer for the then-30-year-old Sidhu noted during sentencing arguments that jail time would mean the commerce graduate wouldn't be allowed to stay in Canada, where he has lived since following his partner who had come over in 2013.

A criminal conviction that carries a sentence of more than six months makes a permanent resident ineligible to remain in the country.

An immigration lawyer says Sidhu's bid has the makings of other cases where deportation was avoided.

" I do think this is one of those types of cases where (border services) could choose to exercise their discretion … given the exceptional circumstances," said Erica Olmstead, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer, who's not representing Sidhu.

But some other parents do not support Sidhu's attempt to stay in Canada.

Chris Joseph, whose son Jaxon died in the crash, said he intends to send a letter to the Canada Border Services Agency asking for the deportation to go ahead.

Joseph said he doesn't want the world to think that all of the families support Sidhu.

"I don't think the rules should be bent again for him to allow him to stay in the country," Joseph said.

"I don't doubt that he lives with regret every single day. I'm not sure that his staying in Canada is best for him."

Michelle Straschnitzki and her husband Tom have a constant reminder of the accident. Their son Ryan is paralyzed from the chest down as a result of the crash.

"I'm not in any way trying to be punitive but absolutely the law is the law and it's not special for anybody else," she said.

"I wish I could be more forgiving but we never want this to happen again and there's got to be consequences. I do feel sorry for his family."

Sidhu's lawyer, Michael Greene, acknowledges his client's crime had catastrophic consequences but his actions weren't malicious.

Greene notes Sidhu wasn't impaired, has a low likelihood to reoffend, and deporting him would also mean deporting his wife.

"This offence was more of a tragedy than it was a crime," Greene said Wednesday.

He said he has been overwhelmed with letters in support of Sidhu, including from a retired judge, some of which he submitted to border services.

"The main thing we’re up against is the perception that ... it would be offensive to the victims and their families and/or the Canadian public to allow him to stay given the magnitude of the tragedy."

"We want to show that ... the Canadian public is not hell-bent on giving him further punishment."

Thomas said he's more concerned about regulations that allowed the inexperienced truck driver, three weeks on the job, to get behind the wheel.

"We just always felt that the deportation part of it shouldn’t necessarily apply. He’s a broken man. He’s broken psychologically and spiritually, and to deport him now would just add to the suffering to him and his family."

Thomas forgave Sidhu in court and has kept in touch with his wife, who shared their emails with her husband.

Thomas realizes Sidhu's desire to remain in Canada is divisive.

"There’ll be a lot of families that would never support this and there are going to be some that do, too."

Greene said support has come from some other Broncos families, but they asked to remain anonymous so as not to upset others.

Olmstead said the deportation policy is there to protect Canada's security, but she has seen orders avoided when someone is guilty of a single offence as in Sidhu's case.

"But on the other hand, you’ve got this terrible tragedy where there were so many victims."

She explained that a border officer considers community connections and someone's chance of reoffending when writing a report, which could take months, and decides whether there are "exceptional circumstances" that would allow a person to remain in Canada.

"It’s quite rare for people to not then still get referred for a removal order."

The Immigration and Refugee Board then holds a hearing to consider the report and is responsible for issuing any deportation order.

A permanent resident can appeal the board's decision on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but not if a sentence, like Sidhu's, is longer than six months.

"This is the end of the road for him," Olmstead said.

Sidhu could seek a review before a Federal Court, but would first need to be granted leave to do so, she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021

-- With files from Bill Graveland in Calgary

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