By Gillian Bethel
Two vehicles approached an intersection at speed one bleak afternoon in rural Canada. The one, a bus, was carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior ice hockey team to a playoff game. The other, a tractor-trailer carrying 900 bales of peat moss, was driven by an Indian immigrant, Jaskirat Sidhu. It was his first month of solo semi driving. Distracted by the flapping tarps on his load, he didn’t notice the stop sign and barreled into the intersection without braking.
The horrific collision that followed killed 16 people and injured 13, some permanently. It shocked the whole nation, and the parents of the team members suddenly found themselves in a vortex of disbelief, grief, and anger. The trucker, meanwhile, entered an endless waking nightmare, traumatized and haunted by the catastrophe he’d caused.
Mr. Sidhu pleaded guilty to all charges. At his sentencing 11 months later, he encountered the team members’ parents, armed with victim statements to read to him in court. As expected, the statements expressed a tidal wave of anger, grief, and blame. “I despise you for taking my baby away from me,” one mother said. “You don’t deserve my forgiveness.”
Yet some families forgave him anyway.
Scott and Laurie Thomas lost their only son, Evan, in the collision. At the sentencing, they felt convicted that Evan would forgive, so they wrote Mr. Sidhu a personal letter saying so and offering their forgiveness. Mr. Thomas also accepted an invitation to meet with Mr. Sidhu privately. During the encounter, he hugged him and wept with him.
“When I close my eyes, I can see myself standing in that room with Mr. Thomas, and it gives me the energy to move forward,” Mr. Sidhu says. “From where I’m standing, forgiveness is everything.”
Christina Haugan’s husband, the Broncos’ coach, died in the collision. She, too, forgave Mr. Sidhu. Since then, on every anniversary of the accident, she’s been showered with messages of remembrance and support from all over Canada. On the fifth anniversary, she decided to send Mr. Sidhu’s wife a short email saying she was thinking of them. “As much as my life changed that day, so did his. I just think someone needs to remember them on that day, because they’ll never be the same, either,” she explained.
Forgiving Mr. Sidhu lifted a huge weight off Ms. Haugan. But later, she realized the need of putting her commitment to forgive into action. As well as serving out his sentence, Mr. Sidhu is now also under a deportation order, which he and his wife have appealed. Ms. Haugan has offered to help them, in whatever way she can, to find a happy future—in Canada.
The Thomases also want to help. When Mr. Sidhu’s lawyer asked them to submit a letter to help fight deportation, they didn’t hesitate. Ms. Haugan commented, “It’s easy to say that you forgive him. But it’s maybe a little harder to actually, genuinely want the best for him and to be able to live that out.”1
What are we seeing in this moving story? Moments of grace—undeserved forgiveness, compassion for the offender, and active steps to help him go forward with his life. Although some who refused to forgive stressed the importance of justice, forgiveness and justice are not mutually exclusive.
Those who forgave did not dispute Mr. Sidhu’s eight-year prison term, but they, along with others, dispute the justice of deportation on top of that. What we’re really seeing in this story is a tiny reflection of God’s heart—the God of fairness and justice, but also of compassion, forgiveness, and—where possible—reconciliation.
We all need to understand and experience God’s compassionate heart for us because, in relation to God’s law, we’re all on death row. We’ve all broken His moral law of other-centered kindness and self-sacrifice, and the penalty for that is losing our life permanently.2 Our guilt extends far beyond serving a prison term ourselves; so God, who is perfectly just, has stepped in and borne our penalty for us.3 That’s what the cross is all about. It satisfies justice so God can then show us mercy, forgive us, and help us to be reconciled with Him for an endless new life.
Christ’s substitute death is the supreme act of compassion and unselfish love for the truly undeserving—us. For unlike Mr. Sidhu, we have sometimes intentionally disobeyed God’s “stop signs” and done what we’d rather do. Yet God still wants the best for us. Like Mr. Thomas, He weeps with us when we weep. God spares no effort to help us move forward in our lives. He wants us to find the true happiness that comes from living for Him and others.
How does God work for individual reconciliation with us guilty, self-focused humans? First, He shows us His kindness in the personal way He works for good in our lives. This kindness should draw us to Him.
Second, if we’re open, He gives us a change of mind called “repentance,” in which we recognize His undeserved kindness and realize what our unkindness to Him and others has cost Jesus. We then receive from Him the desire and ability to turn away from our self-centered ways and experience His forgiveness.
Third, He invites us to come to Him and live a new life. If we accept, He gives us a renewed heart and mind that can obey His moral law and love unselfishly. In other words, He gives us what it will take for us to reconcile successfully with Him and others.4
God’s compassion and His active, undeserved kindness to us are vast. As well as forgiving and renewing us, He wants to help us experience the freedom and joy of showing His kind of love to others. But how can we do that when we’re unable to give them new hearts and minds like God does? Although God hasn’t given us that power, He does give us the powers of compassion, kindness, and working to make others’ lives better. These are powerful gifts!
Remember the light it brought into Mr. Sidhu’s darkness when Mr. Thomas showed him compassion and forgiveness? Think of what it would have meant to Mr. Sidhu’s wife when she received Ms. Haugan’s thoughtful email. Imagine the comfort and encouragement of receiving their help in the banishment appeal. Undeserved kindness, compassion, and forgiveness contain power from God to bring new life and hope, and they can open the way for repentance and a change of heart, where needed.
God offers to help us in all our interactions with others, particularly when forgiveness and reconciliation are in order. While today’s psychology stresses the benefits that come to the one who forgives, God equips and empowers us to focus on benefiting the offender. He can give us a depth of kindness and compassion that reflects His own heart of patient love. This can help to bring deeper healing for both sides.
The Thomases, Ms. Haugan, Mr. Sidhu, and his wife are all experiencing the healing of receiving and giving compassion, forgiveness, and kindness. We can too!
“Forgiving Jaskirat Sidhu,” Maclean’s, macleans.ca, Aug. 4, 2021; “What does forgiveness mean? A Canadian bus crash, five years later,” Christian Science Monitor Daily, csmonitor.com, Feb. 7, 2023.
2 Cor. 5:17-19.
2 Pet. 1:3.
Gillian Bethel is the associate editor of Last Generation magazine.