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B.C. judge accuses Save Old Growth of using volunteer protesters as ‘sacrificial lambs’

Protester’s vulnerability to being ‘seduced’ into blockade activities considered in sentencing decision
Save Old Growth protesters block morning commuter traffic in Victoria, Jan. 10, 2022. (Black Press Media file photo)

A B.C. judge shared harsh criticisms of the Save Old Growth environmental activist group in a recent sentencing decision for one of its protesters.

Ian Wiltow Schortinghuis, 30, pleaded guilty to three counts of mischief and two counts of breach of undertaking for his involvement in three Save Old Growth road blockades in Metro Vancouver between April 27 and June 13.

The group has been occupying major roads and highways throughout the province since January in an effort to pressure the government into ending the logging of all old growth forests.

In her June 30 decision, Judge Laura Bakan found Schortinghuis’ early guilty plea and “genuine” show of remorse were mitigating factors in determining his sentence. Bakan also noted that Schortinghuis has attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities and has been without steady work since the start of the pandemic, making him “more vulnerable to being somewhat ‘seduced’ into these sort of activities.”

Bakan said in her view organizations like Save Old Growth entice volunteers to their cause and then use them as “sacrificial lambs” or “cannon fodder.”

“I find this conduct reprehensible as they hide behind from the persons who have come before me, good people and people such as Mr. Schortinghuis who says that he was given a sense of purpose and belonging by these groups,” Bakan said.

In an Aug. 30 statement in response to Bakan’s remarks, Save Old Growth said it was offended by her accusations and that the group cares about every person who supports it.

“Organizers for Save Old Growth have always stood side by side with supporters and face the same charges and penalties,” the group said. “Each and every individual supporting Save Old Growth is doing so because they’re overwhelmed by the lack of government action globally taken on this existential threat to humanity.”

In her decision, Bakan also said that once charged, protesters are often left without professional lawyers to argue their cases.

“I think this is the first time or one of the first times there has been a lawyer rather than a law student, and this puts these individuals at a disadvantage, as there is, in my case, always very experienced and good Crown counsel who specialize in these areas,” Bakan said.

Save Old Growth didn’t address this claim in its statement.

Crown sought a one-day jail sentence and a criminal record to reflect the time Schortinghuis spent in pretrial custody, along with 18 months of probation.

Bakan decided, however, to give Schortinghuis the opportunity to clear his record. She sentenced him to 24 months probation and 125 hours of community service after which, if he has followed his conditions, Schortinghuis will walk away with a clean record.

Schortinghuis is banned from blocking or impeding traffic in B.C. during that period.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Aug. 30 to include comments made by Save Old Growth in response to Judge Laura Bakan’s decision.

READ ALSO: Save Old Growth organizer fears his climate activism has made him a target for deportation


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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media.
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