A protester involved in four anti-logging demonstrations that disrupted traffic in Burnaby, Vancouver and the North Shore has been handed a conditional sentence with house arrest and a curfew to be followed by six months of probation.
Benjamin Holt, a 52-year-old computer programmer, was in Vancouver provincial court for sentencing Thursday morning after pleading guilty in December to three counts of mischief and one count of breaching bail conditions.
The charges relate to protests with Save Old Growth, a group that has organized major traffic disruptions along the Trans Canada Highway in a bid to end all old-growth logging in B.C.
Four Save Old Growth protests
Holt was first arrested on April 18 when the group shut down the westbound lanes of Grandview Highway in Burnaby during the morning commute.
Holt had perched atop an eight-foot ladder in the middle of the road and held out two coloured smoke sticks billowing the green and yellow colours of Save Old Growth.
On June 14, Holt was one of three protesters who glued themselves to the road when Save Old Growth blocked the westbound lane of the Upper Levels Highway near the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal.
On Aug. 2, Holt was under a court order not to block traffic when he was caught on video doing just that at another short-lived Save Old Growth protest on the Stanley Park Causeway.
And on Oct. 20, Holt was arrested on the Lions Gate Bridge at about 1:30 a.m., after protesters tried to paint a 50-metre “Save Old Growth” stencil onto the middle lane of the bridge.
‘Six-month hiatus from being a good citizen’
Crown prosecutor Ellen Leno had called for a 35-day jail sentence in the case, minus credit for six days Holt served earlier while awaiting bail, and 18 months of probation.
Leno described Holt as “a more entrenched individual” who had continued in the protests despite time in jail and being bound by a court order.
Defence lawyer Benjamin Isitt argued Holt should be granted a conditional discharge with one year of probation.
Isitt described Holt’s offences as a “six-month hiatus from being a good citizen” and noted he was motivated by a commitment to stop climate change.
Isitt also noted Holt had no criminal record and had entered early guilty pleas.
A conditional discharge would have meant Holt would have no criminal record if he successfully completed his probation.
Public safety paramount
But B.C. provincial court Judge Gregory Rideout said a discharge was not appropriate for Holt and imposed a 60-day conditional sentence with 30 days of house arrest followed by 30 days under an 8 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew.
Rideout also sentenced Holt to six months of probation during which he must complete 40 hours of community work service and not block traffic or pedestrians on any road or highway.
Rideout noted Holt hadn’t been merely a rank-and-file member of Save Old Growth but an organizer and coordinator who, for a period of time, received a $2,000 monthly honorarium from the movement.
“I find that his role within the movement greatly increases his moral culpability,” Rideout said.
Rideout said the protests were more than an “inconvenience,” as Holt had described them.
During the blockades, emergency crews were impeded from performing their duties, according to Rideout, and first-responder resources were used up to deal with the protesters – including a fire department ladder truck that was called in to lift Holt off the ladder on Grandview Highway.
“Public safety is of paramount concern when these blockades are established at critical traffic arteries,” Rideout said.
Rideout said it was a “significant aggravating factor” that Holt continued in the protests despite bail conditions banning him from the activities.
“Clearly the accused is an intelligent man,” Rideout said. “I find he was acutely aware of the charges he was facing and the nature of the court proceedings.”