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House arrest for Save Old Growth protester William Winder

The retired UBC professor had pleaded guilty to charges of mischief and breaching an undertaking not to block highways and bridges.

A Save Old Growth (SOG) protester, whose portrait was exhibited in Premier David Eby’s office window, was sentenced to 30 days house arrest and 18 months probation on Tuesday in Vancouver Provincial Court. 

William Glen Winder, a 71-year-old, retired University of B.C. French professor, had pleaded guilty to charges of mischief and breaching an undertaking to not block highways and bridges. 

Judge James Sutherland said in court that Winder was sentenced by a B.C. Supreme Court judge to 21 days in jail last February for disobeying the Trans Mountain Pipeline injunction. Two months later, he illegally blocked traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway in Burnaby, gained release on a promise to not block another road and then, two months after that, illegally blocked the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge. 

“These were not spontaneous, impulsive events,” Sutherland said. “They were planned and coordinated. Furthermore, Mr. Winder had a clear intention to be arrested. He achieved that on a short term basis, what he had set out to do. Police, fire, ambulance resources were required, public safety issues arose.”

Winder sat in court beside his lawyer, former Victoria city councillor Ben Isitt, as Sutherland summarized the agreed statement of facts about the climate change protests that went too far. 

On April 13, Winder and other SOG members entered the Trans-Canada Highway near the Willingdon exit in Burnaby at 7:45 a.m. and blocked Vancouver-bound motorists by sitting or standing on the highway.

“Police attended shortly after 8 a.m. and all of the protesters fled when the officers arrived,” Sutherland said. “Mr. Winder, though, remained seated in the roadway with his ankle locked to a barrel partially filled with cement. Police worked to clear Mr. Winder and the barrel off the roadway. It took three police officers to move Mr. Winder and the barrel, Mr. Winder was then arrested. Burnaby Fire Department had to attend to cut the chain lock off his ankle.”

Winder was transported to the Burnaby RCMP detachment and released when he promised that he would not block or obstruct any roadway in B.C. and protest only in a safe and lawful manner.  

He was scheduled to appear in court on a mischief charge on June 16. But, three days before that date, Winder played a key role in SOG's June 13 illegal blockade of the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge.

Sutherland said that officers impounded three older vehicles parked near the bridge, with the doors and windows glued shut. But, at 7:35 a.m., Winder drove an older vehicle containing three passengers and stopped just before the bridge in the middle northbound lane. The two rear passengers exited in order to glue themselves to the roadway. Winder and the front passenger tried to lock their necks around the steering wheel with U-shaped bicycle locks, but a police officer used a baton to smash the side windows and puled them out. Winder was held in custody overnight. 

One of the others arrested on June 13, Deborah Sherry Janet Tin Tun, pleaded guilty Nov. 21 to a separate mischief charge and is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 21.

“Every citizen has the right to protest and express themselves and attempt to influence others by any lawful means within the democratic process,” Sutherland said. “They don't have the right to take the law into their own hands and break it for their own purposes.” 

Sutherland noted that Winder has not engaged in any illegal conduct since his arrest five-and-a-half months ago. The judge, however, said Winder was misguided to believe that breaking the law for political purposes is acceptable or serves a moral purpose. 

“I accept that he is remorseful for the disruption to the hundreds, if not thousands, of commuters lives who likely missed medical appointments, work, everything else that was certainly very important to those individuals,” Sutherland said. 

Winder remains involved with SOG, in a support and information role for other members appearing in court. There have been 48 arrests leading to charges of 34 individuals from SOG since the Extinction Rebellion splinter group formed last January. They have failed to convince the NDP government to outlaw old growth logging.

“Mr. Winder claims that he will not be engaged in frontline protesting going forward, not necessarily because he appreciates the moral blameworthiness associated with it, but more because he finds it's taking a physical and mental toll,” Sutherland said. “He doesn't have the physical and mental rigour required to be a frontline protester and acknowledges that it's difficult for his family and friends, the disruption that it creates.”

Sutherland said that the house arrest applies to Winder’s residence and yard, 24 hours a day, except to leave for a medical emergency or another legitimate absence approved by his conditional sentence supervisor. 

“So, the Christmas get togethers will have to be at your house,” Sutherland said. “It will restrict your liberty, it will provide a measure of deterrence because it is a jail sentence. The only difference is where you serve it.”

A portrait of Winder in a collection celebrating Vancouver-Point Grey residents was displayed on the window of Eby’s riding office last summer, before Eby quit as attorney general to run for the NDP leadership. 

SOG’s website says the group receives most of its funding for recruitment, training, capacity building and education from the California-based Climate Emergency Fund (CEF). Earlier this year, leader Muhammad Zain Ul Haq told the New York Times that SOG had received US$170,000. The student from Pakistan pleaded guilty Nov. 15 to mischief under $5,000 and breach of a release order. 

In the most-recent SOG protest, Vancouver Police arrested five people on Oct. 20 for blocking the Lions Gate Bridge. They timed the protest for the morning after the NDP disqualified environmentalist Anjali Appadurai and made Eby the successor to Premier John Horgan.