Shona Siddiqui’s brother was struck and killed January 2019 while crossing a busy intersection near Lawrence West TTC station. On Monday, after a court case that dragged on for more than three years, the driver who hit Asim Siddiqui was handed a $500 fine for failure to yield to a pedestrian.
It’s not the outcome Shona hoped for. Failure to yield to a pedestrian carries a maximum fine of $1,000. Those charged with the offense under the Highway Traffic Act may continue to drive and carry a license.
“We feel like we’re being dismissed — as if this is just minor, get on with your life,” said Shona.
Now, she is fighting to ensure her brother didn’t die in vain. Along with other road safety advocates, Shona is pushing for harsher judicial outcomes that are proportionate to the pain families of victims endure, while also urging Toronto to double down on its commitment to reduce traffic-related fatalities as the city witnesses dozens of pedestrian deaths each. year.
Asim, 40, was struck by a dump truck Jan. 16, 2019 while crossing a busy intersection near Lawrence Avenue West and Marlee Avenue. The driver of the vehicle was exiting the Allan Road off-ramp and turning onto Lawrence Avenue when he hit Asim, who was transported to hospital in serious condition and later died.
The truck driver, later identified as Nicholas Brown, failed to remain at the scene, police said at the time. He was charged with careless driving causing death and failure to yield to a pedestrian. Brown pleaded guilty to the latter charge. Prosecutors later withdrew the charge for careless driving.
Asim was one of 42 pedestrians killed on Toronto streets in 2019, according to the Star’s count.
Shona remembers Asim as the “greatest father” and someone who always found time for his family and particularly his son, who was six years old at the time of Asim’s death.
“He was there for his son 24/7. But beyond that, he was there for his parents. When his mother de el was suffering from cancer, he took her to all her treatments de ella, ”Shona told the Star.“ He also helped his siblings and was the greatest uncle.
Yasmin Siddiqui, Asim’s sister, said in a victim impact statement delivered to the court in March that her brother was “the heart and soul of the family.” She told the court about how the phone call she received on that January afternoon changed her world forever.
“Since that day, life has not been the same,” she said. “I lost my best friend, my confidant, my protector and so much more.”
The court proceedings were a “painful process” for her family, Shona said. Besides backlogs in the court system due to the pandemic, the case was also thrown into jeopardy in January after a key document outlining the charges went missing. It was later found.
Brown told the court that he could not see Asim as he was turning because a road sign blocked his line of sight.
Jessica Spieker, a road safety advocate and spokesperson for Friends and Families for Safe Streets (FFSS), said that defense claim is commonly used by drivers, including the one who struck Spieker in 2015 as she was riding her bike.
“It’s so hard to provide another person’s perception and there’s a certain threshold of proof that you have to meet for very severe charges. So if somebody just says that (they couldn’t see you) it’s almost impossible to disprove it,” she said.
But the fact that blocked sightlines can be used as a legitimate defense demonstrates that there needs to be better oversight over vehicle designs, said Spieker.
“Our federal government is asleep at the switch in terms of regulating vehicle designs,” said Spieker. “There exists what’s called ‘direct vision cabs’ for big trucks like dump trucks and cement mixers, which have much bigger windows and drivers positioned right at the front. It doesn’t have a massive hood, and they can see their immediate surroundings.
“If our government wanted to they could mandate that all trucks have a direct vision cab,” she said.
Spieker and Shona, who are both advocates with FFSS, are also calling on the provincial government to pass the Protecting Vulnerable Road Users Act, which would ensure drivers convicted of Highway Traffic Act-related offenses such as careless driving and failure to yield similar face penalties as more criminal-level charges, including having their licenses revoked and being forced to attend remedial driver training.
The act, tabled in 2021, passed second reading, but died on the order paper due to the provincial election. NDP MPP Jessica Bell (University—Rosedale), who co-sponsored the bill, told the Star she hopes to reintroduce it “as soon as (she) can” in the new legislative session.
Spieker said the new laws would act as a fail-safe for when drivers plead down to a minor Highway Traffic Act infraction, “which is very common.”
“We are flabbergasted that the drivers who did this are allowed to keep driving and their licenses are never suspended,” she said. “And it’s impossible to understand why as a society we think that’s OK.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION