Calgary — From Saturday’s Globe and Mail Published on Friday, Jan. 08, 2010
More than a decade after violence roiled the natural-gas-rich lands of northwestern Alberta, the RCMP descended upon a familiar location: Trickle Creek Farm, the home of environmental activist Wiebo Ludwig.
As groups of heavily armed Mounties entered the sprawling farm near Hythe, Alta., with its livestock and green-energy installations, Mr. Ludwig was nearly an hour’s drive away, at a hotel in Grande Prairie.
According to his lawyer, he wanted to have a friendly meeting with police to help them crack the case of a pipeline bomber who launched a series of attacks against Calgary-based energy giant EnCana Corp., terrorizing residents around Dawson Creek, B.C.
Instead, the 68-year-old was arrested, taken into custody and told he would be charged with the extortion of EnCana, which had offered a $1-million reward for information about the crimes.
“He’s pretty taken aback by this turn of events,” said Paul Moreau, Mr. Ludwig’s Edmonton-based lawyer. “He thought he was going to assist the RCMP with some problems they have and the next thing you know he’s being arrested.”
One of Mr. Ludwig’s sons, 22-year-old Levi Ludwig, was also briefly detained and then freed as part of the RCMP sweep of the family farm. Police are scouring the sprawling, 325-hectare property on a five-day search warrant.
Reached Friday evening, the Ludwig family estimated there were about 150 officers combing the compound for blue and red pens, writing paper, audio and video recording equipment, an inkjet printer, explosives and a pair of shoes.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is purely a fishing trip — shaking the tree” said Josh Ludwig, Wiebo Ludwig’s 33-year-old son.
“I don’t think it’s fair to take it out on people like us, simply because we have had strong views about the oil and gas industry.”
For many in the area, the turn of events brought back to mind what happened in the late 1990s, when Mr. Ludwig was at the heart of a public campaign against the energy industry, including EnCana’s predecessor company, blaming drilling for causing toxins to be released into the air, soil and water. He pointed to farm animals that were sick or had birth defects as evidence of what he believed to be industry’s environmental crimes, which government was allowing to occur.
“ He’s pretty taken aback by this turn of events ”— Lawyer Paul Moreau
At the time, nearby oil and gas installations were the target of hundreds of acts of vandalism, and Mr. Ludwig was eventually jailed for acts of sabotage.
In the midst of the tumult, Karman Willis, a 16-year-old local girl, was shot in the chest in 1999 after driving onto the farm, located 500 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. Her killer has never been found.
More recently, the RCMP had publicly declared that Mr. Ludwig was not a suspect in the bombings that had plagued northeastern B.C., just a short drive from Trickle Creek.
RCMP Superintendent Lloyd Plante declined to detail exactly what police are looking for, or what led them to Trickle Creek. “We have followed a trail of evidence that ultimately led to the execution of the search warrant,” he said in a statement.
Mr. Moreau said he is in the dark about what evidence has led to the charge, which doesn’t suggest his client had anything to do with the actual bombings. He said Mr. Ludwig is surprised by his arrest and contends he has done nothing wrong.
“He’s met with them [police] before to try to offer them some assistance,” Mr. Moreau said.
An EnCana spokesman declined comment on the extortion charge. In a statement after the arrest, the company said it “hopes these developments will begin to bring a measure of relief to the area residents and help restore the long-standing sense of neighbourly trust.”
RCMP explosive experts flown in from Ottawa during their investigation in October 17, 2008 of a bomb explosion at an EnCana sour gas pipeline near Dawson Creek, B.C..
The first blast erupted at a pipeline east of Dawson Creek on Oct. 12, 2008, just two days after Dawson Creek news outlets received a menacing anonymous letter. It called the oil and gas industry “terrorists” and gave “Encana and all other oil and gas interests” in the area a single day to shut down operations.
Industry work continued, and five more bombings followed, targeting pipelines and other natural gas installations. People living near the bomb sites were forced to flee in the middle of the night to the sound of poisonous gas hissing into the air. Some, however, said the explosions had drawn needed attention to conflicts between landowners and energy companies, although others worried the bomber would kill someone.
Those worries were magnified when a second anonymous letter promised EnCana three months of peace so it could cease its operations, or things would get worse.
Before that hiatus expired, however, Mr. Ludwig stepped back into the public eye with an unusual letter of his own. Last September, he told the bomber he understood his rage, but asked that he “give peace (another) chance,” and offered to help police stop the attacks.
Mr. Ludwig said the RCMP declined his offer, but he went to Grande Prairie in a bid to continue the conversation, his long-time farming associate Richard Boonstra told Edmonton freelance reporter Byron Christopher Friday.
Mr. Boonstra, who was also convicted of oil-field vandalism with his friend, said Mr. Ludwig had not sought compensation for his help.
Shortly after 8 a.m. Friday, at least five vans filled with heavily armed officers descended upon the farm, Mr. Boonstra said. They presented a search warrant and offered to move the family to local hotels and give them an $80-a-day food allowance. The family refused, telling police they didn’t want to abandon goats that were giving birth.
“I remember saying to them, ‘Come on, relax a little. This is a Christian community. No one has firearms or dynamite,’ ” Mr. Boonstra said. “This isn’t Tel Aviv.”
The arrest, however, came as a relief to Dawson Creek Mayor Mike Bernier. “Hopefully we’ve put it to an end,” he said.
Photo of the Ludwig farm, taken in November, 2009 by freelance reporter Byron Christopher.