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Paid organizer of Save Old Growth roadblocks sentenced to house arrest and curfew

A North Vancouver man who collected $2,000 a month to stage illegal Save Old Growth roadblocks was sentenced Thursday in Vancouver Provincial Court to a month of house arrest and a month of curfew.
Save Old Growth protester Benjamin Holt after his October arrest for blocking Lions Gate Bridge traffic | Save Old Growth/Facebook

A North Vancouver man who collected $2,000 a month to stage illegal Save Old Growth roadblocks was sentenced Thursday in Vancouver Provincial Court to a month of house arrest and a month of curfew.

Benjamin Donald Holt, 53, pleaded guilty in December to being involved in four separate climate-change protests – one on Grandview Highway and Boundary Road on the Burnaby-Vancouver border last April, one on the Upper Levels Highway in West Vancouver last June and two on the Lions Gate Bridge in August and October.

Crown prosecutor Ellen Leno asked for 35 days of jail time and 18 months probation. Holt’s lawyer, former Victoria city councillor Ben Isitt, wanted a conditional discharge.

“He was not merely a rank-and-file member drawn into the movement, he was at the forefront of the protests for which he is now to be sentenced,” Judge Gregory Rideout said in his judgment. “I find that his role within the movement greatly increases his moral culpability.”

Rideout also found it significant that Holt chose to reoffend when he was well aware of his outstanding charges. For instance, Holt made his first court appearance on May 25, a month after climbing a ladder in the Boundary and Grandview intersection, setting off smoke bombs and refusing to come down from the ladder. He was also instrumental in organizing and participating in a roadblock on the highway in West Vancouver on June 14, where he was photographed wearing a suit, cross-legged and smiling as drivers were stuck going nowhere.

“Members of the public were unable to go about their daily activities. Schedules were disrupted, including those attending medical appointments or those travellers planning to catch a ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo or elsewhere,” Rideout said. “More importantly, first responders were impeded from performing their duties as a direct result of the blockades. Public safety is of paramount concern when these blockades were established at critical traffic arteries.”

Rideout gave credit to Holt for having no prior criminal record and for preventing a trial by pleading guilty. But he said Holt’s apology to the court rang hollow, particularly by the suggestion that his actions did not undermine the rule of law.

“His letter is more of an explanation for his conduct than a heartfelt and genuine apology to the public, impacted by his involvement in the four protests,” the judge said. “His apology goes no further than to express his sorrow for the inconvenience caused by his protests. I find his actions did not create a mere inconvenience to the public. Rather, his actions created a serious and significant impediment upon the public's ability to go about their business on the roadways of the Vancouver region without disturbance.”

As such, Rideout said there was a pressing need to emphasize general deterrence.

“Clearly the accused is an intelligent man. At all material times he was readily identifiable as an organizer in the Save Old Growth movement. I find he was acutely aware of the charges that he was facing the nature of the court proceedings.”

Rideout said the self-employed web developer and IT specialist, who admitted his law-breaking compromised his marriage, made a “seriously flawed” submission by downplaying two of the protests because they were very brief. In fact, one of them almost turned into a brawl.

“The altercation between the accused and a driver on Aug. 2, 2022 could easily have resulted in a fight taking place with catastrophic results to the accused or to the driver. Other frustrated drivers could get involved in the melee with, again, the potential for more violence,” Rideout said.

On two of the charges, Rideout gave Holt concurrent one-day jail sentences, deemed served by his appearance at the sentencing hearing. On another, Rideout suspended the sentence, but ordered 30 days probation.

He gave Holt a 60-day conditional sentence for the Aug. 2 roadblock, because Holt had vowed after his June 14 arrest to not block or impede traffic or pedestrians on any road or highway. Rideout agreed with Leno that a jail sentence was warranted, but not in an actual jail.

For the first 30 days, Holt must be at his residence seven days a week, except for employment, to meet his sentence supervisor, for a genuine medical emergency or for a three-hour window each Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for personal needs.

For the remaining 30 days, Holt is under an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily curfew, with similar conditions as the first 30 days. He must also perform 40 hours of community service work within five months, pay a $500 victim surcharge by the end of May and serve six months probation after his house arrest.

Holt must also refrain from blocking pedestrians or drivers.

As he concluded, Rideout addressed Holt directly, in order to make it “crystal clear” that he fulfill every term of his conditional sentence or spend the remaining time in jail.

“And I mean it, so make sure you take this order seriously,” Rideout said.

Save Old Growth’s website, which has been offline for several days, said the group received funding for recruitment, training, capacity building and education from the California-based Climate Emergency Fund (CEF). Last summer, leader Muhammad Zain Ul Haq told The New York Times that Save Old Growth had received US$170,000.

Haq, a foreign student from Pakistan, pleaded guilty to participating in illegal roadblocks on Jan. 23 and awaits sentencing.