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Lower Mainland anti-logging protester tells court he's choosing marriage over civil disobedience

North Vancouver resident Ben Holt, 52, said his time in jail for traffic-blocking protests with Save Old Growth strained his marriage and scared his kids.

A protester involved in four anti-logging demonstrations that disrupted traffic in Burnaby, Vancouver and the North Shore should be sentenced to 35 days in jail and 18 months of probation, according to a Crown prosecutor.

Benjamin Holt, a 52-year-old computer programmer, was in Vancouver provincial court Friday morning and pleaded guilty 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.

Holt was first arrested on April 18 when the group shut down the westbound lanes of Grandview Highway in Burnaby during the morning commute.

According to facts presented in court, 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.

They only got as far as “Save” before police arrived, according to the information presented in court.

At Holt’s sentencing Friday, Crown prosecutor Ellen Leno said Holt should be sentenced to 35 days in jail, minus credit for six days he served earlier while awaiting bail, and 18 months of probation.

“Essentially, given the number of files, the timing of the files, to just the aggravated nature of what Mr. Holt is doing, the fact that he has continued in August and October despite his being held in custody, despite the undertaking, the Crown says he’s one of the individuals who is a more entrenched individual,” Leno said.

She said nothing short of a jail sentence would be appropriate.

But defence lawyer Benjamin Isitt argued Holt should be granted a conditional discharge with one year of probation, a 60-day curfew, 150 hours of community work service and a ban on blocking traffic.

A conditional discharge would mean Holt would not have a criminal record after successfully completing his 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.

“The stakes were high; he felt he had to act,” Isitt said.

Isitt also noted Holt had no criminal record and had entered early guilty pleas.

Holt read out part of a statement in court apologizing for his actions and saying his days of civil disobedience were over.

He said his five days in jail in October had scared his teenaged children and strained his relationship with his wife.  

“I’ve been given a choice,” he said. “I can either continue in civil disobedience or I can continue in my marriage. I enthusiastically choose my marriage.”

Holt's sentence will be delivered some time in January or February.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor