B.C. judge blasts conservation group for using protesters as ‘cannon fodder’

A British Columbia Provincial Court judge has accused an environmental group of using frontline protesters as ‘sacrificial lambs’ to erect illegal traffic blocks aimed at drawing attention to their anti-corruption agenda. climate change by sowing chaos.

In a searing decision, Judge Laura Bakan suspended a 30-year-old man who participated in repeated Save Old Growth protests earlier this year.

Bakan said Ian Wiltow Schortinghuis was the type of « unsophisticated » person organizers convince to get arrested instead of those « pulling the strings ».

« He’s a person whose personal attributes are easily exploited, » Bakan said.

« If they say, ‘We’re going to arrest so many people,’ that’s like using people as cannon fodder. It’s usually not the strategists who are on the front lines. »

“A total error of qualification”

Bakan sentenced Schortinghuis in Richmond Provincial Court in late June after pleading guilty to three counts of mischief and two counts of breach of recognizance. The judgment was only posted online recently.

Save Old Growth is a group dedicated to ending the logging of old growth forests in British Columbia. A spokesperson dismissed Bakan’s comments as « speculation » based on defense submissions aimed at getting the best outcome for the defendant.

Save Old Growth protesters blocked the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in April, leading to arrests. The group claims that a judge who accused the group of « grooming » people mischaracterized the organization. (Save Old Growth/submitted)

“I think the judge made a total qualification error,” said Ben Holt, who serves as central coordinator.

« You can’t help but have hurt feelings about this, but what we’ve been talking about internally is that defense attorneys need to do what’s in the best interests of their clients. »

Schortinghuis’ first arrest came on April 4 after he and others sat on the deck of the Ironworkers’ Memorial Bridge for 30 minutes, blocking southbound vehicles and holding signs. He was released after signing a pledge not to block traffic again.

Despite that promise, Schortinghuis was one of five people who erected pylons, held up Save Old Growth signs and stopped two-way traffic on a major Trans-Canada Highway on-ramp days later.

He was released on another recognizance, which he breached in early June by standing atop a ladder mounted at the entrance to the Massey Tunnel. Schortinghuis was evicted after police climbed over a dump truck to bring him down.

He was forced to remain in pretrial detention for 17 days.

« Lambs sacrificed for their causes »

Schortinguis has a high school education and has no criminal record. According to the ruling, he suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and mental health issues. He has been accepted into a training course in auto mechanics starting this fall.

« He seems to be the type of person these groups essentially attract and use as sacrificial lambs for their causes, » Bakan wrote.

« His mother says that she thinks it makes him more vulnerable to being somewhat ‘seduced’ into these sorts of activities. These groups are sophisticated, well-organized and well-funded. »

gridlocked traffic at nighttime in one of vancouver s busiest tunnels
The judge said it was only a “matter of time” before illegal blockades of busy Lower Mainland roads resulted in death or injury from frayed nerves in motorists. (Radio Canada)

Bakan directed his comments to both Save Old Growth and Extinction Rebellion, which has also staged protests in the Lower Mainland.

« [Schortinghuis] explained that he had felt depressed due to the pandemic and suddenly felt a sense of purpose and belonging that he lacked, » Bakan said.

« I don’t mean to say it’s derogatory, but basically these organizations are grooming people like Mr. Schortinghuis. »

Holt, who also faces his own mischief charges related to the Save Old Growth protests, said all members of the group were prepared to be arrested for their beliefs.

He insisted that Schortinghuis was not manipulated.

« He’s a pretty smart person. He’s smart, he’s worried, and it’s something that was done entirely by himself, » Holt said.

“It is unfortunately only a matter of time”

In her sentencing, Bakan relied on a set of rulings from other judges that weighed the consequences of protesters’ disruptive actions against climate change against recognition of their legal right to dissent.

She agreed that “there must be accountability within the criminal justice system” when civil disobedience “impairs or negatively affects other citizens and their right to lawful and peaceful movement.”

“It is unfortunately only a matter of time before someone is injured or killed during one of these illegal blockades,” Bakan said.

The judge said the blockages were traumatic for people with medical appointments and children and an already nervous driving public because of the pandemic.

She also noted that « the blockade caused more carbon fuel to be sent into the atmosphere as cars idled or were diverted and had to take longer routes ».

Save Old Growth announced an end to traffic disruptions at the start of the summer, but Holt said the group plans to resume blockages in the coming months.

« Yeah, people are bothered by traffic stopping. Traffic stops all the time, and it’s always inconvenient. I don’t think it’s more or less inconvenient when we do that, » said Holt.

« What we weigh this downside against is a very imminent and very real threat of climate breakdown, of an unlivable planet. »

Schortinghuis must serve two years of probation as part of his sentence. If he meets the conditions, he will not have a criminal record.


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