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Save Old Growth protester released on bail after five days in jail

Anti-logging protester Benjamin Holt was facing mischief charges in relation to demonstrations in Burnaby and North Vancouver when he was arrested again Thursday with protesters trying to paint a giant stencil onto the middle lane of the Lions Gate Bridge at 1:30 a.m.

A 52-year-old computer programmer charged with mischief in relation to old-growth logging protests in Burnaby, Vancouver and the North Shore has been released on bail after spending nearly five days in jail.

Benjamin Donald Holt was taken into custody on the Lions Gate Bridge at about 1:30 a.m. on Thursday (Oct. 20) after police responded to a protest action by Save Old Growth, a group calling for the end of old growth logging in B.C.

The protesters were in the process of painting a 50-metre “Save Old Growth” stencil onto the middle lane of the bridge but only got as far as “Save” before police arrived, according to information presented at a bail hearing Monday.  

Crown prosecutor Ellen Leno argued Holt should remain in custody.  

She noted he was already facing two previous mischief charges for earlier protests when he was arrested again.

On April 18, he had perched atop an eight-foot ladder and held out two coloured smoke sticks billowing the green and yellow colours of Save Old Growth during a demonstration that saw protesters block the westbound lanes of Grandview Highway in Burnaby at the height of the morning commute.

On June 14, he 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.

Holt had been released under conditions banning him from blocking traffic, but Leno presented photos and videos suggesting he might have been at a Lions Gate Bridge protest on Aug. 2 doing just that.

Leno said charges may be laid against Holt in that protest as well.

“He seems rather entrenched in his views and his ongoing offences despite the bail conditions that he’s on,” Leno said.

Defence lawyer Benjamin Isitt argued Holt should be released on $1,500 bail and said Holt’s wife was in court ready with the cash.

Isitt noted Holt, a father of two teenagers, didn’t have a criminal record and his alleged offences didn’t involve violence or the threat of violence, so denying him bail would be unreasonable.  

Isitt also argued Holt wasn’t breaching his bail conditions last Thursday because there was little traffic on the bridge at that time of the morning and the middle lane was closed.

“He is a person of good character who is motivated by genuinely held concerns rooted in a consensus of scientific research that the climate crisis poses an existential threat to humanity and to other species and that urgent action is necessary to change course,” Isitt said.

But B.C. provincial court judge Nancy Adams said, “No matter how commendable the cause, breaking the law in this sense is clearly undermining the rule of law.”

She said her decision needed to take public safety into account.

“In my view, all of the things I’ve heard about on the three days he’s charged involve public safety, whether anyone was harmed or not,” she said.

Given Holt’s actions this year and his commitment to the cause, Adams said there was a “substantial likelihood” he would commit another offence if he was released, but she concluded keeping him in jail wasn’t the only way to mitigate that risk.

She released him on a $1,500 cash deposit bail with a number of conditions, including a ban on blocking or impeding traffic or pedestrians on any road or highway and a ban on any protest activities on any road or highway.

“I’m trying to prevent any further criminal charges here or criminal activity,” Adams said.

Holt’s next court date is scheduled for Oct. 31.  

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor