Drivers stopped by a protest action on the Upper Levels Highway between Caulfeild and Horseshoe Bay last week may have spotted a man in a suit and tie blocking traffic.
Last Tuesday (June 14), police arrested Ben Holt along with two other members of Save Old Growth, a group of activists trying to bring a legislative halt to logging old-growth forests in B.C.
The group’s members are drawing attention to the cause by blocking major roadways with their bodies during rush hour. Some commuters have reacted with violence, with one demonstrator in Victoria hospitalized last week with a broken pelvis after an angry driver pulled out a support from the ladder the protester was sitting on, causing him to fall a few metres to the concrete.
On the North Shore, some drivers threatened to fight Save Old Growth protesters on the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing.
Nobody wants to be out there blocking traffic, said Holt, a 52-year-old computer programmer and North Vancouver resident.
“Certainly, I don't like sitting in traffic,” he explained. “I don't expect anyone else to, and North Shore traffic is horrible at the best of times.”
Holt said he absolutely appreciates the reactions his group is getting. “But we don’t have much time. We don’t have many choices.”
“And getting this sort of reaction is, unfortunately, the only way to generate the attention and apply the pressure that's necessary to our provincial government.”
With well over 1,000 arrests, last year’s Fairy Creek blockades are considered the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. The previous record was held by 1993’s War in the Woods, where demonstrations in Clayoquot Sound made worldwide headlines, eventually leading to logging firm MacMillan-Bloedel handing over control of its tree farm licence to the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, and a number of changes being made to B.C. forest policy.
In comparison, Fairy Creek had less of an impact. “It largely went under the radar,” Holt said. “It got very little media attention, and a lot of Canadians are simply unaware of it.”
During his snap-election campaign in 2020, Premier John Horgan made a commitment to adopt recommendations from an independent expert panel that called for an overhaul of provincial old-growth logging practices.
“He was absolutely adamant that he wasn't going to go forward with [liquid natural gas], and he was certainly going to stop old-growth logging.
“In fact, he's done the exact opposite,” Holt said. “A politician is going to turn around and do the exact opposite of what they say in an election. What good is a democracy?”
Data show that most people in the province support better protection of old trees. According to Insights West, 74 per cent of British Columbians are concerned about logging old-growth forests, and only 16 per cent think the NDP has followed through on its election promises.
Holt asks angry drivers to 'take a deep breath ... think about why the protesters are out there'
Working for the Green Party, Holt put a lot of time and effort in during the past few federal elections, with very little results, he said. After last year’s catastrophic heat dome and floods, he started looking at morally acceptable ways to pressure the government to change within a limited time frame. He arrived at non-violent civil disobedience.
He joined Save Old Growth earlier this year, and participated in his first protest action on top of a ladder in the middle of Grandview Highway in April.
These actions are working, Holt said.
“It's getting media attention. We've got the premier fielding questions on it. We've got [Public Safety Minister] Mike Farnworth fielding questions on it the other day.
“It's working better than petitions and marches and that sort of thing,” he continued. “That's done nothing.”
The consequences for Holt’s actions have been relatively low. He’s taken days off work to demonstrate, and has a stable job. But some of his peers face fates far worse. A 21-year-old international student from Pakistan is in hiding after lawyers advised that Canada Border Services Agency wants to detain him.
And the man injured in Victoria will likely have to manage long-term complications. In a statement, 26-year-old Trevor McKelvie said he bears no ill will toward the driver.
Holt explained that Save Old Growth is strictly non-violent, and all its members have undergone related training.
“I would ask the public before they get out of their car, and confront people, to take a few deep breaths – think about what they're doing. And think about why the protesters are out there.”