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The Devastation of a Junior Hockey Team

On April 6th, 2018, the horror story broke worldwide that a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team to a playoff game in Nipawin, Saskatchewan collided with a tractor-trailer truck north of Tisdale, Saskatchewan just after 5 p.m.  Sixteen people were killed—including the bus driver—and another 13 were injured.

The truck driver was not injured.   Road Rules wrote, “Because we want to learn how to prevent such crashes, because we want to learn how to respond even more effectively when they do happen, because we must find something of takeaway value in the ruins of this horrific tragedy, we sift through the rubble.”

On Friday June 6th, three months to the day since the crash, media reports detailed the results of an informational meeting between RCMP officials and all the families affected “—some in Saskatoon, others in Edmonton, and the rest via video stream—to inform them of the investigation results.”

RCMP spokesman Supt. Derek Williams was quoted as saying, “a core team of 20 investigators—with as many as 100 contributing to the investigation—conducted over 60 interviews, took over 6,000 photographs, analyzed all documentation available, and used 3D technology to gather evidence using drones.  The speed of the vehicles, point of impact, position of vehicles, impairment, road and weather conditions, and witness evidence were all considered. …Every piece of information was carefully examined,” said Officer Williams.  “This is a tragic event, first and foremost.”

In the result, Officer Williams said, “Investigators “acquired evidence” that the semi-truck involved in the collision was being “operated in a manner dangerous to the public.”  Accordingly, after consulting “extensively” with Crown prosecutors, rather than proceeding under the Saskatchewan Traffic Safety Act, the RCMP charged the truck driver, a 29-year-old man from Calgary with 16 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death, and 13 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm.

The maximum sentence for dangerous driving causing death is 14 years in prison.  The maximum for dangerous driving causing harm is 10 years in prison.  Reportedly, no charges were laid with respect to any issue of impairment.  At the time of the informational meeting, RCMP were able to report that the truck driver had been arrested that same day at his residence in Calgary, and that he had been remanded—i.e., ordered to be detained in custody pending his attendance in court in Saskatchewan scheduled for the following week to answer to the charges.

A highway traffic offence may be a quasi-criminal offence enacted by a provincial government in connection with its regulatory power over highways or it may rise to the level of seriousness involving actions and intentions not just harmful to the individual victims but to society as a whole.  In such a case the Criminal Code of Canada may apply, as has been determined in this case.  The Crown counsel – the prosecutor – must prove such a charge beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard of proof in all types of court proceedings, necessary because punishment is also the most severe often including imprisonment and monetary fines.  This will be an emotionally charged proceeding  on a national level.